Living in a Small Italian City

I have to admit that before coming to Italy I was a little apprehensive about living in a small Italian town. I feared that no one would be able speak English, which could present some added difficulties when doing daily tasks. Not to mention, I worried that it would be hard to travel throughout Italy. On the other hand, I thought that there was a certain mystique to living somewhere very “authentic,” a place that lacks tourists.

Recanati is a city in the Marche region of Italy, where I have been living for going on five weeks. Looking back on my early reservations and assumptions, I now know they do not pertain to the situation at all! Recanati, although small, is filled to the brim with tourists during the summer because it is the hometown of the famous Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. The city has a wonderful museum, Casa Leopardi, which is actually the house Giacomo grew up in and where he spent most of his life, as well as his family’s library. There is even a park titled colle dell’infinito that marks the landscape Giamcomo was looking at when he found inspiration for one of his famous poems, “L’infinito.”

As far as my concern about communication goes, I have not had many problems. My host family is very enthusiastic to translate things for me such as menus. Not to mention, constantly hearing and seeing Italian has really motivated me to learn the beautiful language. In many cases Italian people are excited to practice their English with a native speaker.

It is safe to say that traveling is a little more difficult than if you lived in a big city but nowhere near to the extent to which it can be in the United States. My host family has kindly offered to drive me to the train station at the near big city whenever I go on trips, which is also the place where they initially picked up me up from upon arrival. Busses run throughout the city, allowing me to easily travel to nearby destinations.

Living in a small city in Italy has been a wonderful experience so far. Most of all I enjoy the sense of community one feels when being here. My host family members greet almost everyone they see on the street because everyone knows each other. Living here has by no means prevented me from traveling to bigger cities. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere you have never heard of, you will probably love what you find!

Dagmar is a Working Abroad Grantee teaching English in Italy as a Conversation Coach.

Running Out of Thaim

This past Saturday, I woke up before I heard the alarm go off. It was 4:05 a.m. but I didn’t care, I hopped out of bed and ran around the room like a crazy person getting ready. Turns out I could have slept for another 30 minutes. Why, you might ask, was I waking up so early on a Saturday? Only for the best reason possible: to climb to the highest point in northern Thailand to watch the sunrise over Thailand and Laos.

First of all, let me tell you … the bugs on this mountain are 10 times bigger and a million times scarier. I have considered myself pretty lucky so far in Thailand when it comes to bugs. I saw a moth the size of a bowling ball. I saw a five-horned beetle which will haunt me in my dreams for the rest of my life! However, the fresh air and the chill in the air reminded me of home and that made me smile despite the scary bugs.

So after getting ready by 4:10 a.m., I sat ready to go for the next 50 minutes. At 5:00 a.m. we got into the car for a five-minute drive and then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes hiking up a mountain in the dark! But it was well worth it. I am not sure I have ever taken the time to watch the sunrise, but now that I have I want to see it over and over again.

Apparently I only have four weeks left in Thailand – I don’t know when or how that happened but I woke up this morning and it hit me.  In four weeks I will not ride my bright pink bicycle to school and be greeted by 700 smiling faces yelling “teeecchhhaa Katie” every morning. I will not get to visit my favorite coffee lady across the street from the school where coffee only costs $1. I will not be here and that is hard to wrap my head around.

Now that I have so little time left, there are so many things I want to do. Phu Chi Fa, which is where I went to see the sun rise on Saturday is something that I have wanted to do for the past 11 months and only just did now! I want to see the Thai Islands, I want to go everywhere in Thailand and see all the ruins and temples and places with floating markets! But there is a difference between wanting and reality. I do not have much time left and the way I will spent that time is with my students, which is the best way to spend it anyway.

I have never and am quite certain will never feel a love like the love my students give me. Every morning I arrive to school with little love notes on my desk. I get pictures of Spiderman and elephants (my favorite animal) and drawings of myself with much nicer hair! One student wrote me a note telling me she cries at night because I am leaving. Thailand is the best thing that has ever happened to me and now that I am running out of Thaim, I am not sure how I am going to leave without a broken heart.

A Spanish Adventure Abroad!

After graduating from high school this past June, my mentors and peers had told me of the wonderful world that was now at my hands, and how I could shape it to my fitting. This is exactly what I did by traveling to the beautiful city of Madrid, Spain, for three months as a Conversation Coach in a family of eight.

In the months leading up to my trip, I spent my time preparing myself through researching things to do in Madrid, how to get around and teaching techniques that would help the children I was coaching. We live in such a connected world and many people who do not speak English have the desire to be able to simply because it is the language of business. Through globalization, we all improve by learning and understanding how other cultures work and operate.

When the time came to part ways with my family at the airport, I knew I was on the verge of one of the greatest experiences of my life. An experience that so far has been a roller coaster of emotions. Traveling abroad and being alone is never easy, especially when you come from a small town in the Midwest of 12,000 people, and then going to one of the biggest cities in Europe with a metropolitan population of over 6,000,000. Figuring out how to use the metro system has been such a new experience to me, and I would highly suggest getting a ‘Tarjeta Transporte Publico,” a monthly pass that will allow you to ride the metro as much as you like with a monthly cost of 35 euros. In Madrid, this is something you will be doing a lot of.

I have been here for exactly one week, and my experience is just beginning. It is easy to look forward to the weeks and months ahead with nothing but joy, being at the heart of one of the most beautiful cultures in Europe. My favorite place I’ve visited so far would have to be the Royal Palace of Madrid. As someone who loves history, I was in awe at the fact I was standing in a place where centuries of monumental moments were once made. I cannot wait to discover more of what this city and beautiful country (and culture) have to offer!

Joseph is a Conversation Coach in Spain with InterExchange Working Abroad.

A Typical Day as a Conversation Coach In Italy


I arrived in Italy almost one month ago today and the time has really flown by! In light of this anniversary of sorts I want to share my lovely experiences to date. Every day in Italy has been exciting and different from the last. Some things have remained constant, such as the fact that my host family has gone out of its way to make my time here wonderful. Other things have fluctuated, such as our daily routines.

My host father was recently on holiday for two weeks. During this time we often went to the Adriatic Sea to go swimming and enjoy the sun. We also went on several excursions to nearby cities such as Fabriano, Ancona, Loreto and Gradara. While at the beach or during day trips English lessons were very informal, mostly consisting of conversations and new vocabulary words centered on themes such as the water sports, history or castles.

For the past week we have fallen into a fairly consistent schedule. During the business week my host father wakes up at 7:00 a.m. to go to work. My host mother, brother and I usually wake up around 9:00 a.m. and have breakfast. For breakfast we always have cookies or something sweet. I do homework with my host brother after breakfast and watch cartoons in Italian afterward. Between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. we have lunch and my host father comes home to eat with us. After lunch my host brother and I sometimes play board games such as chess or monopoly. I have a lot of free time in the afternoons and typically study Italian and go on a run through the city. Around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. my host father comes home from work and we have dinner around 8:00 p.m.


The evening is always my favorite time of day. We all watch the news together and talk about current events. This often sparks interesting discussions about politics and personal opinions. After dinner and sitting around the table we often go on a walk through the city and last, but certainly not least, we get gelato from the local gelateria.

A very important aspect of living and bonding with my host family is spending time with each other. My host family has invited me into their home with open hearts and has made me feel like I am part of the family since day one. I hope that this insight into a typical day in an Italian family is helpful for everyone who is curious and make sure to look out for my forthcoming blog post! Ciao Ciao!

Dagmar is a Working Abroad Grantee teaching English in Italy as a Conversation Coach.

Conversation Coach Program in Italy: First Impressions and Motivations

After completing my bachelor’s degree in the United States I wanted to engage in an international experience that would allow me to live abroad, learn about myself and share American culture with others. At first the prospect of going abroad to a country where I didn’t known anyone seemed daunting, not to mention the difficult process of selecting a destination. InterExchange provides several services, such as 24-hour emergency contact, that gave me the security and support to go abroad without such worries. When it came time to select a program I thought about my Italian heritage and my grandmother’s immigration stories. Before I knew it I was on my way to Italy, ready to embark on an exciting learning experience as a Conversation Coach.

Before setting out on my journey I wrote a list of things that I knew (or thought of knew) about Italy. Additionally, I began learning Italian, which has become a wonderful new hobby of mine, and looked up some English grammar terms. With my luggage packed and phrase book in tow I was excited and prepared for my travels. Just four days before I was set to begin my trip the daughter of my to-be host family became very ill. This news was very worrisome because over the course of a month we had exchange emails almost everyday. InterExchange and their Italian partner quickly informed me that they were trying their best to find me new placement in an Italian host family. With two business days and a six-hour time difference this sounded liked a very ambitious and quite possibly futile task. To my surprise they did it! My new host family and I immediately began exchanging emails and video chatted before I arrived. In a matter of days I became part of a new family, a truly priceless experience.

From the start of my time in Italy, beginning at the airport, Italian hospitality has left a great impact on me. My host family kindly met me at the train station of the biggest neighboring city, Ancona. The drive from train station to the small city where my host family lives was breathtaking, complete with abundant sunflower fields and a dreamy landscape with the Adriatic Sea and the mountains in the background. The beautiful city of Recanati in the Marche region is the place I will call home for my seven weeks in Italy. Look out for my future blog posts for more information on my adventures through Italy!

Dagmar is a Working Abroad Grantee teaching English in Italy as a Conversation Coach.

Exploring Thailand

Few places on Earth inspire travel as much as the beautiful and exotic country of Thailand. Those teaching English in Thailand have the unique opportunity to discover the country and culture, while also becoming a part of the community where they teach.

A Rich History
Visitors to Thailand are first usually struck by the sense of history that permeates this Southeast Asian nation. Formerly known as Siam, Thailand is nestled between Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos on the Indochina Peninsula. It is believed that Thailand has been inhabited for around 40,000 years, and many protected sites across the country date back to at least 2,000 B.C.E.

In the capital city of Bangkok, many of the country’s historic temples and attractions are located in the Old City district. Participants in our Teach English in Thailand program should not miss the opportunity to see sights such as the Grand Palace and the Buddhist temple of Wat Pho.

Ayutthaya


Bangkok was named the capital of Thailand in the 1780s under the rule of King Rama I The Great. Prior to this, the ruined city of Ayutthaya served as the country’s largest city. Today, Ayutthaya remains one of the best-preserved ruined cities in the world, with huge vines snaking across many of the original structures. Ayutthaya is easily accessible on a day trip from Bangkok, so individuals on working abroad programs can fit in a tour of this remarkable site on a weekend.

Sukhothai


Located in the northern part of Thailand, Sukhothai was the capital city of Thailand’s first independent state in the 13th century. Sukhothai National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers more than 25 square miles and contains approximately 200 individual ruins of the former civilization. For a small fee, you can rent bicycles and tour the area on two wheels, enabling you to enjoy the splendor of the Thai countryside and see more of this vast national park.

Ko Pha Ngan


Perhaps best known for its Full Moon Party that attracts thousands of revelers every month, Ko Pha Ngan is one of the easiest of Thailand’s islands to discover. The beautiful beaches and mountainous jungle terrain that share the topography of the island offer something for every kind of traveler. And with coconut harvesting and fishing being the island’s primary trades besides tourism, Ko Pha Ngan is a welcome escape from the bustle of the bigger cities on mainland Thailand.

Thailand offers multiple opportunities, both as a tourist destination and a site for cultural learning. Cultural exchange programs are a great way for American participants to not only earn money while living in an exotic location, but to discover the attractions and different practices that make the country such an exciting travel destination.

My New Zealand Living List

During my first week I spent in New Zealand as part of my InterExchange Working Abroad Work & Travel program, I stayed at a home that I found through AirB&B. (An amazing site where you can rent apartments or share a house with a family. It’s cheaper than hotels and usually has a kitchen!) Kaye, the homeowner, is a New Zealand local; wife to a man she met when she was in her teens and the mother of five children.

To say the least and keep the description quite short, she was the type of person that reminds you of that Kindergarten teacher you just loved.

Through the short three days that I knew Kaye, we had a few memorable conversations. One that really stood out to me was about dreams and aspirations. We agreed that if you say you can, you can. If you say you can’t, you can’t. My favorite thing that Kaye said was:

“If you want to do anything in life, you really can do it, ya know? Just write it down and check it off – keep a list. But, I hate that term Bucket List. Ukkkkk, it’s the worst. I have a Living List ya know? It lives right next to my bed.

 In fact, the other day I was sitting with my husband and I thought to myself, I want to ride a camel! So, I ran to my living list and I wrote it down.” *Please insert a charming New Zealand Accent.* 

My New Zealand Living List

Love many, trust few, row your own boat.

1. Go South Island wine tasting with grandma

    • “If I’m vertical and I still got the money in my account…I’m coming to New Zealand.” – Lorraine Dobinski (Age 80, mother of seven crazy kids and definitely knows what’s up)
    • We’re in the process of booking her ticket, she’ll come in the next few months

2.  Sea kayak in Milford Sound, New Zealand

3. Bungee jump in Queenstown

  • Opened in 1988, the Kawarau Bridge Bungy is “The Original,” the World’s first commercial bungee site. Jumpers launch 43 meters off this historic bridge, which spans the Kawarau River.

4. Go to an All Blacks rugby game

5. Trek the Waltomo Glow Worm Caves

6. Sheer a sheep…or at least hug one…I’ll settle for a hug too

7. See a kiwi bird

    • These little nuggets are not only brown and camouflage into the scenery, they are nocturnal. Not the easiest birds to sight.

8. Bike the Dunedine to Naesby, Twizel and Geraldine touring route with my brother and his girlfriend

    • This trek is 480 KM and should take about seven to nine hours. Better start training for this now….

9.  Go to Fiji with my sister and cousins

10. Keep a diary

11. Pick up someone who gets stuck walking in the rain

    • A few days ago I was walking into town and it was raining, a woman just stopped her car and said, “Hop in! No one likes to walk in the rain.”

12. Boogie at the Queenstown Blues & Roots Festival

13. Try each kind of Whittaker’s chocolate

  • Holy crokes is this stuff yummmmmmmy!

14. Walk the Abel Tasman Coast Track

  • This great walk extends 54.4 km and takes about five days to complete.

15. Check out the Moeraki Boulders scattered across the Otago Coast

  • 1/3 of the boulders range in size from about 0.5 to 1.0 meter (1.6 to 3.3 ft) in diameter, the other two-thirds from 1.5 to 2.2 meters (4.9 to 7.2 ft), mostly spherical or almost spherical.

16. Invite someone who has just moved here over for dinner

  • When I was traveling through Auckland, I met a wonderful family while hiking the Rangitoto Volcano. The family invited my father, brother and me over for dinner that night. We made pizza from scratch, drank some beers and ate hokey pokey ice cream. The hospitality went a long way in terms of my comfort level here. I can only hope that I get the chance to return the favor to someone in my position down the line.

17. Write one letter a week letting someone special in my life know that I care about them

18.  WWOOF

  • WWOOFING is when you live with families and work for food and shelter. The organic practice can be a variety of things, like:
    • Cooking and preserving, wine, cheese and bread making, companion planting, worm farming, composting and other things of that nature!

19. Go Zorbing

20. Learn 12 new recipes – one every month for a year

21. Hang out at the Wellington Botanical Gardens for a day

22. Raft the highest waterfall  in Rotorua, New Zealand

23. Find a piece of jade on the South Island

  • You are so sneaky, jade…but I’ll find you!

24. Ski Treble Cone in Wanaka, New Zealand

25. Every time I get homesick, smile and thank the universe out loud for allowing me to be here

  • “All days are good, just some days are better.” – My Dad

10 Things I’m Happy I Brought to New Zealand

So, while InterExhange took care of most of the “boring” work for me to move to New Zealand, I was left with one main job…packing! As many woman and men know, this is no easy task, especially when you’re trying to fit a year’s worth of gear into a few suitcases.

Now that I have been in New Zealand for two weeks and found a home in Wanaka, here are 10 items I am pumped that I brought with me.

1. Interexchange Handbook & Resources

  • I’m all for going digital and saving paper, but NZ WiFi is brutal and not accessible everywhere like it is in the States. So, relying on Google Maps isn’t really a good option.
  • I made a binder with my: InterExchange Handbook, list of local hostels, InterExchange contact information and three city maps of various places in New Zealand.
2. Hiking Shoes
  • Whelp … it’s time to put away the heels and break out the Chacos and Merrill boots. New Zealand terrain calls for sensible footwear. Chacos are great for warmer-season hiking, while a durable pair of hiking boots is perfect for colder weather!
3. Overnight Pack
  • I went with the Granite Fear Leopard VC 46! Mostly … ’cause I liked the colors and it has a detachable fanny pack.
4. My Turtle Pillow
  • Been my #1 travel companion since 1993.
5.    Snowboard/ Skiing Gear
  • You may have to pay the $50.00 for an extra bag on your flight, but it’ll be worth it. I can’t stress how much more gear is over here.
  • To give you an idea, I bought a Marmot Ski Jacket on an off-season sale in the U.S. The jacket came to the ridiculously good price of just over $100.00. The other day in Wanaka, I saw the jacket inside and checked the price tag. The jacket was $599.00 over here.
  • A couple good websites to get great outdoor gear are www.geartrade.com and www.backcountry.com.
6. My Curiosity
  • Extrovert or introvert, putting yourself out there will always be uncomfortable at first. But, if you think about it, all your friends were once strangers and all of your favorites places were once unknown, right? The first step is getting out the door!
  • “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson 

7. A Diary

  • One of my great friends bought me a diary before I left. Blogging and typing is great, but there is something nostalgic about picking up a pencil and writing down how you feel and what you’ve been doing.

8.    Electric Chord Converter

  • I got a strip and a few US plug converters so I don’t have to buy all new power chords. Try buying them on Amazon beforehand, they are way cheaper.

9. Dad & Peter

  •  Oh, did I mention my Dad and youngest brother came with me to help me find an apartment? I don’t think I could have made it without them. Here are a few snapshots of our trip from Auckland to Wanaka:

10. A Nice Camera Just in Case You Run Into Places Like These:

A Smell in the Air

It’s hot, so very hot. The smell of fish sauce and durians lingers in the humid air when I leave to bicycle to school in the mornings. It’s a smell I have become accustomed to. Sometimes if you wake up early enough, you can catch the cockroaches scurrying away as the morning light appears. And every day you will sweat, not just a little bit, a lot. Just stepping outside to throw something away causes you to sweat.

Life in Thailand is not glamorous. You are in Southeast Asia. Squat toilets are everywhere. Strange bugs and smells are everywhere. People are always staring at you. It is likely that you will be out of your comfort zone 24/7. But it’s ok.

Rainy season has begun so I get to ride my bicycle to school wearing some really fashionable ponchos and arrive looking like a mess. There are always adjustments to be made and compromises to make, but every day for me ends with a smile.

The past few months have been pretty interesting. There was quite a large earthquake in May. Then martial law and then a coup! If you had asked me if I would live in a country that had a coup during my life I would have said no, but lo and behold, here I am experiencing it. At first there was a lot of worry about what may or may not happen. Did we need to leave? Would it be safe? Turns out Thailand is now safer than it was before. Life has not changed for me at all.

I cannot believe I am entering the last three months of my year of teaching in Thailand. The thought of leaving my students and the life I have grown accustomed to these past nine months is too much to think about right now. So is the stress of figuring out what exactly comes next. For now I am enjoying the time I have here.

Our teacher’s room

There are wonderful new teachers at my school from South Africa who make the days much more exciting and enjoyable. I have now gotten to a wonderful place with my students where classes go smoothly for the most part and I feel like I have hit a good rhythm as a teacher. I walk around with my camera at school a lot to take pictures of the students and my surroundings and all the crazy things that go on:

  • The Thai teachers who walk around in four-inch heels crushing cockroaches with ease as they stroll by.
  • The student who asked me how to spell TV!
  • And stumbling upon a group of 10 students in a huge pile of mud trying dig a hole for some unknown reason!

These are just a few examples of the things I see every day at my school.

Last week was a busy week. We had National Scout day and because I work in the primary and secondary school I got to experience two different ceremonies for this special day. I always enjoy experiencing the different days and customs in Thailand that I never would have experienced at home. The students have so many different outfits for all of the special days and celebrations and they always find some way to involve the Western teachers in whatever is going on!

For now my focus has shifted to making midterms and getting excited for my upcoming four-day weekend. I always enjoy little breaks because it gives me just enough time to visit somewhere new in Northern Thailand! When I come back the schools will have midterms and then I am in the final stretch of my time teaching here! In my next blog I will have a video of the three different schools that make up Piyamit Wittaya and an example of what we do in the classroom!

My desk

Five Reasons I’m Moving to New Zealand

Hi. I’m Rachel. I’m from a small town in Massachusetts and worked in Boston for three years at an organic content marketing company. I like GIFs, lions and going to concerts. Oh yeah…did I mention I’m moving to New Zealand?

I have been planning to move abroad to NZ for six months or more since December. It seems like a really long time to wait. But I look at it from a different perspective – it took me 20 years to decide where I wanted to go. (I don’t really count the first three years of my life. I’m pretty sure I was part alien.)

Looking back, New Zealand was always a pretty obvious choice for me. But, it took me a while to figure this out. Through some extensive (obsessive) Googling and blog reading, a few things stood out to me about this little ol’ island that helped me take the plunge.

These are the top 5 reasons that I decided to move to New Zealand:  

1.    It’s an English Speaking Country

  • No bueno on a second language for this chick.

2.    It’s the Adventure Sports Capital of the World

  • Hiking, zorbing, bungee jumping, ice climbing, rock climbing, trail running, mountain biking, skydiving and more.
  • Yeah, we have this stuff everywhere (maybe not zorbing) but…let’s talk about that view! I have been skydiving three times and I have never seen anything close to that!   

3.    Diversity in Climate

  • New Zealand has every type of climate you could think of. What makes it unique is that these different climates all live in a small proximity to one another. New Zealand only has an area of 103,482 square miles.

 4.    The Kiwi People

  • I have heard nothing but outstanding things about the Kiwi people. In fact, I met someone from New Zealand in Boston about a month ago. One of the first things he said is that people will love my accent and American enthusiasm. He said that Kiwis love people from other countries, especially Americans. (Don’t you wish that was everywhere?  He seemed to be buzzing with positive energy and smiles. I am hoping that he is a sample size of the rest of everyone there!)
  • How I imagine meeting people in New Zealand: click video. I will keep you updated on how this goes…

 5.    Taking a Vacation From Your Vacation

  • There are so many beautiful places to visit while you over there. I mean…since you are in the area…why not hop over to Fiji or Australia? Feeling a little exotic…how about Indonesia?
  • Worries about costs? A ticket from New Zealand averages about $350 or less!

New Zealand isn’t for everyone, but I have a really great feeling about how this adventure will go for me. Stay tuned for my next blog – I’ll be sure not to leave out any of the outlandish details ;) .