Changing Time Zones

I’ve been in Spain for three days now and even though I’ve mostly slept, I think it’s safe to say I love it! The travel was tough. Despite all the planning, weeks of packing, farewell parties and goodbye outings, it wasn’t until I walked into the airport that it really settled in that I was really moving out of the country on my own! “Who does this?” I thought. But with little time to get lost in logic or consumed by fear I hurried to the check-in counter. Despite the last minute purge I did just before leaving the house, every piece of luggage I packed was over weight, as anticipated. I stepped out of line, rearranged once more, paid my fees and went on my way.

Before arriving to my gate I stopped at Pinkberry to indulge one final time before also bidding my favorite frozen treat adieu for a while. I arrived to my gate with just enough time to call Sprint and disconnect my phone service prior to boarding.

Finally on the plane, I was served two hot meals, a couple of cups of tea and a glass of wine. I spent the next 14 hours journaling, napping, listening to music, watching a plethora movies and TV series and tracking our travel progress with a GPS system that showed live footage of the area outside.

After what felt like a lifetime of flying we landed in Moscow, welcomed by about 10 or so inches of snow (give or take a few inches as I’m from L.A. and am not used to eye-measuring snow, lol) covering parts of the runway, but thankfully it did not impact our landing. The homes adjacent to the airport were the cutest, as they were painted an assortment of bright colors adorned with alternating colored rooftops.

I stayed in the airport for my two-hour layover while I people watched and compared cultures. When it was time to depart for our final destination, we walked out onto the runway and boarded a charter bus that drove us to our appointed aircraft, where we then emplaned and got ready for another 5 1/2-hour flight.

Once in Madrid, after passing through customs, I made my way to baggage claim and retrieved all of my items. I attempted to purchase a luggage cart but did not have exact change in euros nor did either of my bank cards work (which now I’m assuming was the machine error). In that moment I found the saying to ring true that “you never realize how strong you are until being strong is [literarily] your only option.” I stacked all of my oversized and overweight luggage on top of one another and hauled them out of the airport to meet my host family, whom I’ve only seen once via Skype previously, for the very first time. After a 30-minute commute I arrived at the four-bedroom flat I now call home.

I spent the next day in hibernation trying to reclaim the hours of sleep that I lost. While still struggling with the time change, I’ve been forcing myself to stay awake during the day by overdosing on coffee in the morning and using sleeping aids at night to help regulate my sleep/wake rhythm.

I started work Thursday evening. I sat with the daughter, Gabriella (12), and assisted her with her English homework. I helped clarify the difference between past continuous and past simple verb tenses, the proper use of the word “ideally” and further helped her understand common English idioms such as something costing “an arm and a leg.”

The kids are really fascinated with my hair. After discovering that my twists are extensions, Sergio (10) now often sneaks up behind me and holds a strand in his hand. After several seconds, he’ll jump from behind me, hair still in hand and ask “Can you feel that?!? Did you know I was holding your hair?”

Gabriella and I share many of the same interests; she likes to swim, shop, eat frozen yogurt and also loves high heels. Friday she and I walked to the mall, which is about 10 minutes by foot. While many things are the same here, there are a lot of dissimilarities.

In my adventures of getting out and seeing the town, I have noticed Majadahonda (the city where I reside) does not use traffic lights, rather every intersection is a traffic circle and people simply merge accordingly.

Beer is an acceptable beverage sold at many fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King and costs no more than one euro.
Manis and pedis are not a popular part of the culture, so much so that a six-chair cart in the mall (like where we would buy cell phone cases) is enough to meet the demand here. I guess it is safe to say that my biweekly gel mani/pedi upkeep will soon fall by the wayside.

Most things in Europe are smaller; cars, food portion sizes, the popcorn served at movies, storage space and even the chairs at restaurants are less than what I am accustomed to.

I will have to get used to the European double cheek kiss as a form of greetings, partings and gratitude. I will also have to remember to use the word “trousers” instead of “pants,” as the word “pants” references underwear and is taboo to discuss publicly.

Londi is working as an au pair in Spain through InterExchange Working Abroad.

My Spanish Adventure Continues…

Spain is such a wonderful country, filled with culture, food and history! Over the last two months I’ve been able to experience it all through the InterExchange Working AbroadConversation Coach in Spain program! My adventure so far has been filled with a mix of emotions, as all experiences abroad will include at one point or another. As I have been told many times throughout my travels, if you don’t feel a little bit uncomfortable, you’re not learning anything.

So what have I learned? Well, that’s a loaded question. When you travel to a foreign country, you learn about the country you visit, how the people live, what they do for fun and simply how they live their lives. It’s a learning experience you should embrace and explore to fully understand a culture, but you also learn so much about your own culture at the same time. You use this experience to compare and contrast, learning and coming to realization about things from your own culture that you had previously never paid any attention to, until you saw how other cultures are doing it differently. This doesn’t imply or mean that one country or culture is better in comparison – that’s open to opinion, but I would avoid that mindset at all costs simply because it will limit your learning experiences. Be true to yourself, embrace change and take in all the world has to offer.

My final month is well under way here in Spain, and it’s a bittersweet feeling to say the least. It’s hard not to fall in love with such a beautiful and historical culture, and you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced European nightlife, especially in Madrid! I’ve grown close to all the children I’ve been tutoring in English as well, and it’ll be hard to see myself off and leave them behind. Through this experience I have made relationships one would hope to last a lifetime. I know I will always be welcomed back!

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

A Year in Thailand

On Monday, October 6th, I finished teaching in Thailand. Ever since that day life has been a whirl of plane rides, buses, confusion and culture shock. And so begins my life away from Thailand, my life without my amazing students and a life without the title of “Teacher Katie.”

Going to Thailand to teach English is the best thing I have ever done. It has shaped me and made me a better person. I already miss life in Thailand but am also so grateful for all I have accomplished and to return home for a short time before beginning on my next journey.

I took a chance and it paid off. I won’t lie and say it was always easy and that I always enjoyed my time. To be completely honest the first six months in Thailand were so difficult, but then I made a decision. I decided to embrace the experience and make the most of every moment in Thailand. The second I made that decision everything changed. I fell completely in love with my life and I felt a happiness I had never felt before.

I have learned so much this past year. I have learned what true love is and that is something my students taught me. I have learned that that with risk comes reward and if you work hard it will always pay off. I feel like a completely different person than I was a year ago and I never want to go back to the person I was then. I am a happier person, I am a stronger person, I am a healthier person (despite my many trips to the hospital while in Thailand) and I honestly believe I am the luckiest person because I went on the adventure of a lifetime.

So here I am year later, a changed person. I am about to embark on another adventure, which is moving to London. I have no idea if it’s going to work. I have no idea what’s going to happen but it’s funny because I’m not scared. I am so excited for the unknown, I am so excited for new adventure in a place that I love and to experience new things. I am ready to fall in love with my life the way that I did in Thailand.


If anyone wants to go an adventure my advice would be to do it. It will be scary, amazing, terrifying, difficult but soo, sooo worth it. You never know what you are missing until you get out of your comfort zone. The best advice I can give after my year in Thailand is to do something unexpected and scary and to conquer your fear. You never know what you can accomplish until you try!!!

I decided to make a video with a lot of pictures from my time in Thailand and traveling around! :)

International Experience Aligns With Future Employer Expectations

In today’s competitive, globalized economy, it is never too soon for young people to start thinking about their future careers. With an increasing number of college graduates in the U.S., today’s students need to do everything they can to differentiate themselves from their peers. One of the ways they can stand out is by having international experienceCultural exchange programs offer such opportunities and can do more than expand personal horizons – they can effect greater professional growth as well.

Increasingly International Focus

According to a survey by global recruitment consultancy the Hydrogen Group, 72 percent of employers expect senior personnel to have international experience. Although students’ experience working or volunteering overseas may be less recognized in more senior positions, these excursions can bring more attention to students’ resumes and set them on a more elevated track. Time spent working abroad can also be a great discussion point at interviews.

The report also revealed that more professionals are considering gaining international experience to remain competitive in their fields. The choice of destinations for today’s workers is also becoming more diverse.

“Five years ago this might have been New York, London and Hong Kong – now it is also the likes of Shanghai, Houston, Vietnam,” Dan Church, client services director of the Hydrogen Group, said in a statement.

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

In addition to aligning with the expectations of today’s employers, international experience can be a great way for students to expand their horizons and see how other countries conduct business.

This can be especially useful for students enrolled in programs with a focus on global commerce, such as business, travel and tourism, and even social science. It is one thing to study how different countries interact with each other on the global stage; it is another to actually experience it firsthand.

Many large companies have multiple offices in international locations. For students applying to multinational organizations, experience living and working in foreign cities and countries can be attractive to employers seeking candidates with a broad worldview.

Language students can also benefit from cultural exchange programs that offer volunteer and work opportunities, as immersion is the best way to master another tongue. Being bilingual can be a major asset to students looking for work with large organizations or companies with offices overseas.

Personal and Professional Growth

Cultural exchange programs are more than an exciting adventure for today’s students – they are a valuable learning experience and a chance to differentiate themselves from other similarly skilled applicants. As technology continues to make the world a smaller place, international work experience could be one way for students to stand above the rest.

23 Travel Emotions Explained Through Songs

Recently there have been a lot of articles coming out about traveling alone and the struggles one may encounter while doing so.  I’m pretty sure that these articles are appearing to me through Facebook’s new tailored newsfeed. But, guilty as charged, it’s working and I’m clicking!

Now, what has really drawn me to these articles – besides keyword filled headlines in the form of lists and questions ;) – is how profoundly real they seem in comparison to what I have read in the past.

When people think of travel, they associate it with: freedom, excitement and liberation from the everyday grind. Although all those attributes ring true, there are a few emotions that have not “full on” come to surface until recently: loneliness and doubt.

These words have such a negative stigma to them, but having encountered them recently, I think that they are important. We need to acknowledge it’s all a part of the process – it’s a sacrifice you take when leaving your comfort zone.

All in all, traveling brings about so many emotions in everyone. It makes you question your very inner-being while at the same time strengthening the core of who you are. Weird, I know.

23 Emotions I have encountered while traveling in New Zealand represented through song.

This for sure will hit all the highs and lows.

1. Every single going-away encounter you have before the big move.

One More Time by Daft Punk

 2. The euphoria you feel once you step off the plane and realize that your longing dream is now a reality. 

The Dreamer (SAMURAII EDIT) by The Tallest Man On Earth

3. The confidence you try to keep having coming over alone and not having a place to live or a job.

Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys

 4. When you haven’t made any friends and it’s week two.

Loser by Beck

 5. That first night on the town with your new friends.

Heads Will Roll by Yeah Yeah Yeahs 

6. When your Sunday Funday includes skipping rocks and napping by the lake for 5+ hours.

Steal My Sunshine by Len 

7. Having a warm coffee outside in winter weather when you know it’s still summer at home.

Horchata by Vampire Weekend

8. Being self-determined to pick up a new hobby and slowly…sometimes very slowly…improve.

#thatPOWER by will.i.am

9. Every morning waking up.

Go Outside by The Cults

10.  When people start to ask you, “But, what are you doing? Aren’t you concerned about your future?”

I love It – Icona Pop, Charli XCX

11. When you’re totally bumming on the other side of the world and you get to Skype with your family.

You’ve Got the Love by Florence and The Machine

12. The first time you feel the rawness of questioning what you are doing.

The Climb by Miley Cyrus

13. When your best friend starts to hear about all the new friends you are making.

Always Be My Baby by Mariah Carey

14. When you meet someone at the bar and see them the next day only to have them call you Michelle, or Rebecca, or….uhmm, what’s your name?

That’s Not My Name by The Ting Tings

15. When you get let go from your first job … yes, this really happened to me.

On To The Next One – Jay Z

16. Realizing that if you knew exactly what you’d be doing for the rest of your life in your 20s, you’d probably be bored by 30.

Teenage Crime by Adian Lux

17. Planning your next adventure even though you are still on your first one.

I Can’t Stop by Flux Pavilion

18. Travel Romance – Type 1

Let’s Get Lost – G-Eazy

 19.  Travel Romance – Type 2

Stolen Dance by Milky Chance

20. When your friends and family back home have an issue and call you up.

You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor

21. … and then you start to talk about what you are going to do when they come visit you.

Bangarang by Skrillex

22. The hopefulness you get that one day Beefeater Gin and Jameson won’t be $60.00+ in every packy here. #StruggleIsReal

Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding

23. The happiness you get when you wake up able to do all the things you love to do.

Dog Days Are Over by Florence and The Machine

The First 10 Days of a Dream: Au Pair in France

When I made the announcement that I would be moving to France to be an au pair I was met by a lot of side eyes and questions. I am 25, I graduated from college and I had become a career employee in the Federal Government; I was too mature for this apparently. No one could understand why I wanted to toss away all I had worked for to flit off for a year in Paris – they thought I was going to waste my time. But the truth was that I had always had the dream to go live in Paris. I would be sitting at my desk at work daydreaming about life there, I would be Googling express ways to learn French and I regretted never having studied abroad as a student. The more time passed the more I felt I would always regret not fulfilling this dream.

One day deep in my Google-France mode I came across InterExchange’s website and as I was reading I kept finding more and more reasons why this program was perfect for me! I loved kids, it’s a whole year, you take classes … how could I not apply?

Fast track to today and I am sitting in my cute room in my beautiful house in the Paris suburbs! Its 11:30 a.m. and I am still lounging in bed. Work doesn’t start until 4:00 p.m. when I pick up my younger boy from school and feed the baby a snack and wait for the oldest child to come home. I have the three: an eight-year-old boy, an 11-year-old boy and an 18-month-old baby. All of them are awesomely fun kids, but they are kids so they have their little moments! I make sure the boys complete their homework, make some dinner or warm something up from before, play with them and then my day is pretty much done when one of the parents arrive home. Typically I will sit and eat dinner with them, and help clean up the kitchen afterward. My host mother is so kind and generous and quite funny so we sit around chatting before I go off to my room.

My room consists of a large wardrobe and a table and a shelving unit, which you would be surprised to know is perfect storage (I brought four checked bags and a carry-on – no judgement). I have my own bathroom and my room exits into the garden so I often sit out there with my cafe and croissant in the morning.

Most au pairs I know, myself included, live really close to a train system that goes right into Paris so almost every day since I have been here I have met up with someone and spent the day seeing sites and eating and shopping! But we have to be careful – we are paid somewhere between 80 and 110 euros a week, which is easy to lose very quickly. I spent my first few days using my credit card – mistake! Now I leave it at home.

It’s been less than two weeks and I haven’t sat still! I have already explored, already sampled, already shopped and already fallen in love with my new life. Taking this chance and following my dream – as cliche as it sounds – is really the best decision I could have made. I left everything behind, but now the world is in front of me and I cannot wait to see what’s next!

Jasmine is an au pair in France with InterExchange Working Abroad.

What Do Environmental and Wildlife Conservation Involve?

Young people who hope to volunteer overseas may feel passionate about protecting wildlife or preserving the environment for future generations. These causes are vital to the continued health of the planet’s natural habitat and the creatures that inhabit the wild. Young Americans looking to gain valuable international experience while learning more about conservation and sustainability practices have a myriad of choices.

Restoring the Balance

Overseas projects in which many U.S. citizens participate are focused on saving indigenous ecosystems. In many countries outside the U.S., lumber operations and mining for fossil fuels have endangered the environment through deforestation and disruption of the landscape. Participants in volunteer abroad programs may find themselves working to restore the fragile ecological balance by planting trees and installing irrigation systems to ensure that flora can thrive in areas affected by the depletion of natural resources like New Zealand.

Another important activity for conservation groups is taking direct action against pests and natural threats, such as insects. Julianne P., a volunteer overseas candidate who worked in Queensland, Australia, was part of one such initiative.

“…We worked under the leadership of Biosecurity Queensland to locate and eradicate a particular species of ants, Anoplolepis gracilipes,” said Julianna. “It’s thought that they were introduced from Africa, but now in Australia they have become a danger because of their ability to form super colonies with more than one queen, and the damage they have done to crops and native wildlife.”

Making a Difference

In other instances, participants on volunteer overseas programs have helped convert old mines into conservation museums, minimize the damage from pollution and litter on Australia’s beaches, and ensure that choking shrubs and weeds do not damage indigenous crops. In a country as vast and diverse as Australia, there is a variety of challenging and rewarding work to be done.

“Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” said Eric A., a volunteer who worked in New South Wales, Australia. “I know that this experience changed me for the better and opened my eyes to the world around me. I feel so much more in tune with my surroundings, and I have the opportunity to take this knowledge and experience with me wherever I go in life.”

No matter where they travel around the world, young Americans on volunteer overseas programs can do their part to preserve the delicate balance of the natural world. Not only will they meet new and interesting people and embark on an adventure, but they’ll create memories that will last a lifetime.

Nature’s Eye Candy in New Zealand

Fiordland. Where do I begin?

I guess I can start by saying that when I first moved down to the South Island, let alone New Zealand, Fiordland was talked about in a mystical way. Despite the fact that most New Zealand natives I have spoken to haven’t seen the Fiordland’s (seriously…what?) they speak of how out of this world the views are. It’s the “Real New Zealand,” they say.

Now, not to sound spoiled, but I feel as though I have become a tad desensitized to the picturesque scenery here. I bite my tongue…or I guess cramp back my fingers as I type that.

To my defense, my drive to work requires passing a few mountain ranges, a few sheep farms…and oh yeah, did I mention I now work at a stunning vineyard? I guess what I’m trying to say is, I have just become accustomed to every drive being dramatically scenic, so my shock factor has gone down quite a bit.

Before I dig myself in a literary hole here, let me just throw out there that my trip to the Fiordland blew my mind. Like, HOLY CROAKS! My breath was taken away numerous times. Thank goodness, because I don’t know how many more times I could bore my company with using the word beautiful or gorgeous to describe what we were looking at.

Due to the nature of this topic, I think it’s only appropriate I represent my time spent down south with a short video. Two friends, Kyle and Carolyn, accompanied me in a Jucy Campervan to the Fiordland. We spent most of our time stationed in Te Anau making day trips and a few overnight tramps near by. Enjoy :o !

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.