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 ;) .

What Is Beyond the Land of Smiles?

If you have the amazing opportunity to Teach English in Thailand, you also have the opportunity to travel Southeast Asia! Of course you can stay in the wonderful Land of Smiles, which has a never-ending array of temples and incredible places to visit. However, if you are feeling adventurous then I suggest you leave Thailand and explore some more of Southeast Asia. If are so lucky as to come to Thailand and start teaching in October you will find yourself with a considerably long break in between semesters. My break started in the middle of March and lasted until the first week of May.

Going home during this break was never an option for me. I made a commitment to be away for a year and I am on the other side of the world … so why not take advantage of it? I started planning in January and decided to travel to Bangkok, then Indonesia and Vietnam before finally coming back to Thailand. Well, I have just arrived back in Thailand and this trip was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time!

I got a lot of looks from people when I mentioned that I planned on traveling to Indonesia. Bali is a well known tourist/beach destination, but that was not the reason I wanted to go to Indonesia. I wanted to go for the culture, the food, the people, the photography and for a new and exciting experience. While in Indonesia I visited Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Sanur, Ubud and Seminyak, meaning I spent time on the islands of Java and Bali.

Indonesia was a blur of colors, festivals, parades, food and people. The beaches in Bali were stunning, the ancient temples in Yogyakarta were breathtaking and the charm of Ubud was overwhelming. My favorite place in Indonesia was Ubud, which is on the island of Bali. There are no beaches in Ubud as it is in the center of the Island. But the town is rich with culture and life. You can take day tours to visit the incredible terraced rice fields or the Holy Spring. You can also visit the monkey forest and maybe end up with a monkey climbing up and sitting on your head – something that I was so fortunate to experience.

After Indonesia it was time for a three-hour layover in Singapore on the way to Vietnam. When I finish teaching in Thailand I feel like I must visit Singapore. Just being in the airport for three hours was amazing! But, the destination was Vietnam and when I flew in over Ho Chi Minh City at 9:00 p.m., I could not have been more excited to experience another country in Southeast Asia.

The first thing I noticed and fell in love with in Vietnam was BREAD!!!!! After six months in Thailand and having a mom who owns a restaurant/bakery, I cannot even describe to you the feeling of joy I had when I came across the baguettes in Vietnam! I spent six amazing days exploring Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. My favorite day was a trip to the Mekong Delta, where we spent the day on the water: I held a giant Python and ate local coconut candy. Then I hopped onto a plane and flew up to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Hanoi was crazy, day and night. How I never saw a motorcycle accident during my time there is a miracle. I spent many afternoons trying different coffee shops and sitting on a street corner, enjoying some Vietnamese coffee and watching the motorcycles fly by. I also spent many hours of my day getting absolutely lost in the streets of Hanoi!

The food, the people and the places in Vietnam definitely warrant a visit to this incredible country. I was sad to leave Vietnam, but it was time to head back to Thailand. It felt like home when I landed in Bangkok and I started to speak Thai again! There are so many wonderful things about each country in Southeast Asia and I hope to visit a few more. If you come to Thailand to teach, seize every opportunity you have to travel in and out of the country, you won’t regret it!

Our Most Popular Working Abroad Programs!

Through InterExchange Working Abroad, we offer exceptional work and volunteer programs that allow U.S. citizens to travel all over the world. Our programs are designed to address a variety of interests, but here are some of our most popular programs that might be right for you: Read More »

Teaching English in Class

My English class in Italy

As a School Teaching Assistant in Italy, I had the opportunity to stay with a host family and teach at a local school. Although I had tutored before, it was an exciting new experience to teach a class in a foreign country. I learned so much during my time there and was able to meet so many amazing students. Here are a few ideas for future tutors traveling abroad:

Research ahead of time. The school may ask you to come up with your own lesson plans, so have a list of a few websites that offer English lesson plans, games or worksheets for the grade level you will teach. I made a free account on Education.com to access worksheets and activities for students.

Meet with your teacher before class. When you arrive to Italy, if you have time, meet with the teacher you will be working with before your first class to hear suggestions or topics to focus on.

Translate ahead of time. Write key words and phrases in a notebook beforehand and read from it during class. Write basic phrases like “Hi, class! How was your weekend?” or “Does everyone understand the question?” Having these listed was very helpful when I didn’t know the Italian translation offhand. You can also jot down the Italian translations to the words you teach. For example, if you are doing an exercise or worksheet in English, write down all the Italian translations as well to help the students understand. The teacher is a great resource if you need to explain something to the class.

Start class with an English conversation. This gets them excited to speak English and show off their abilities. When I first arrived, the class asked me questions in English. The were extremely curious about Americans and had many questions for me, such as “What is your favorite movie?”; “What city are you from?”; or, the strangely popular “Do you like Eminem?” Also, if there’s an event or holiday coming up, you can ask your students about how they celebrated it.

Worksheets! If you have access to a printer and/or a copy machine at your school, prepare worksheets to hand out during class. After the English lesson, the students can complete the worksheet while you walk around answering questions. The worksheets were an easy and efficient way to follow up lessons and reinforce English skills.

Engage the class by having students raise their hands with the answer and come up to the chalkboard to write it. For example, one lesson we did in my class was on objects in a house. We wrote the Italian words for objects like bed, dresser, floor and ceiling, and had students come up to write the corresponding English word.

If you have extra time after your lesson, you can either assign homework for the students to work on or play a fun game like Simon Says in English.

Enjoy your time tutoring abroad!

Order the Fish in the Galapagos!

When in the Galapagos Islands, I recommend the fish, only the fish and any fish at all. Here are some of the best restaurants around San Cristobal and what to order while you’re there. Also be prepared to eat a lot of arroz and plantains. 

Tonga Reef Cafe is on the main street, right on the water. It serves excellent batidos frutillas and great breakfasts.

San Jose may not look like much from the outside, but the fish is so fresh, marinated in fine herbs and one of the absolute best meals I’ve ever had in my life. 

Lucky’s is perfect for almuerzo. Their sopa is excellent, the pescado y arroz can be a little bland, but for three dollars, it’s the perfect place to stop for a snorkeling break.

Bar Rosita is at a central place in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (the main town in San Cristobal), right across from Lucky’s. The place is more expensive than you need to pay, but it’s a good meeting place. Also, the house salsa is very spicy but great with the arroz.

Travel books and volunteer packets rave about this place, but honestly I’m not sure why. The food wasn’t great but was overpriced. It was closed more often than not while I was there. But I guess it’s good for internet.

Bambu is a great place for a late night dinner, but they sell out of fish very quickly. They have a banana bread stuffed with queso that is amazing. It’s right near the bank.

Now we come to one of the capital places for dinner in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where they serve the conchalagua con ajillo. This is not to be missed. It is a little more expensive, but if you have a small appetite it is big enough to share. I was told that the conchalagua was a small shellfish that could only be collected once a month under the full moon. Extremely delicious.

Dip the plantains in the ajillo sauce.

The pescado ceviche is an excellent dish for any mood and is best eaten over popcorn. I never knew the name of the small restaurant, but it is located across from the giant swordfish, pictured below.

This statue is a beautiful tribute to the goals of conservation of the Galapagos.

Tips for Traveling In Italy

Traveling in Rome, Florence, Venice and Cinque Terre

Rome: There are many sites to take in as a Teach English in Italy Conversation Coach and I really suggest traveling there more than one weekend. It will be difficult to see everything and you won’t want to feel rushed.

  • The Colosseum and Roman Forum use the same ticket for entrance and cost only 12 Euros. You don’t necessarily need to buy this ticket in advance but do go early since the lines tend to get long.
  • The Vatican City is definitely a must. The Vatican Museum is filled with famous artwork, which includes the Sistine Chapel. This ticket I would recommend buying in advance on the Vatican’s website. It is 20 Euros (16 for the ticket, 4 for presale fees). St. Peter’s Basilica often has a long line but is absolutely worth the wait, and is free to enter. I would set aside several hours for the museum and St. Peter’s.
  • The Borghese Villa is perfect for a sunny day where you can enjoy the park. You can also go to the Borghese Museum for 13 Euros.
  • Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers and the Trevi Fountain are both beautiful and situated in areas where you can sit and enjoy the view. Make sure to do as the Romans do: make a wish and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain!
  • The Pantheon is also a must-see. Its overwhelming size and structure are truly amazing. You do not need a ticket to enter. While in Rome try the typical Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe. It is spaghetti with parmesan and crushed black pepper.

Florence: Although Florence is a great site seeing city, it is also great for wandering the streets and enjoying all the different streets.

  • You must absolutely go to Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo. As beautiful as it is from the outside, you must climb the bell tower and/or duomo. The view is indescribable and worth the 10 Euros (that will give you access to both the bell tower and duomo). Warning: it is roughly 400 steep steps to the top of each.
  • The Santa Maria Novella is also another beautiful church situated in a huge piazza next to the train station.
  • There are also many museums in Florence. I have only been to the Uffizi Musuem, which has Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and other known paintings. Make sure to make your way over to the river, the view from the bridges and the buildings along the edge are amazing.


Venice: I think it would be impossible to find a street and water way that isn’t beautiful and picturesque in Venice.

  • Make sure to see all the large bridges, such as Ponte dell’Accademia and Ponte Rialto.
  • San Marco’s Basilica is another surreal church. Make sure to go to the top of the Campanile in San Marco to see the views overlooking Venice. The ticket is only 8 Euros, and fortunately comes with an elevator ride.
  • The Northern island of Burano is definitely a must see. It is a hidden treasure of Venice that not many people think to visit. You can take a 40-minute ferry ride each way for less than 20 euros. The small island is made up of short, brightly painted houses.


Cinque Terre:
This was definitely my favorite travel location. It is composed of five cliff side towns. I stayed in the most southern, Riomaggiore. If you want a more nature-filled weekend, Cinque Terre is the place to be. There are hiking trails that connect each town, an easy path along the water, and a more difficult path through the hills. Most likely, some of the easier paths will be closed due to past weather but the difficult paths are not so bad since you stop in each town. These colorful towns are situated on the clear water of the Ligurian Sea. This area is known for its seafood, and after some seafood risotto, I understand why!

Teaching English With a Host Family

Through my Teach English in Italy School Teaching Assistant program, I’ve had the opportunity of teaching English both in a host family setting and in a local school. Both have taught me important lessons about what types of activities engage children and inspire learning.

My experience living with my host family, two parents with a six-year-old son, has been incredible. Never having traveled abroad on my own before, I had no idea what to expect coming to an entirely new home. Luckily for me, my host family made me extremely comfortable right away. They have included me in their daily activities, showed me around the city, introduced me to friends and family and even taken me to a local volleyball game. For the short time I’ve been here, they have made me feel like part of the family.

My host parents are intermediate English speakers, while their son is just beginning but learning very quickly. I teach their son English for a couple hours each day after he gets home from school. His parents and I agreed that the best way for him to learn and enjoy the language was to introduce English words in fun way, such as playing an educational card or sports game. That way, I can essentially sneak in English without adding too much stress to his already busy school day.

One game that my host brother enjoyed was a basketball game using English words. He has a small basketball hoop in his room that we play with, and we selected several objects words from around the room (e.g. bed, window, floor, dresser, closet, door, curtain) and wrote them on a piece of paper with their Italian translations. We placed this piece of paper in view during the game, and after one of us made a basket, that person would have to yell out an object word (“Window!”) and the other person would have to run and touch the object. We started out with five or six words and added to the list we went along. As simple as the game was, my host brother was quickly comprehending and speaking basic words in English.

Other ideas for activities include scavenger hunts, memory games and word searches. Another fun game to play at the end of the day is Simon Says. When my host brother is “Simon,” he gets practice saying English phrases aloud such as “Touch your head!” or “Clap three times!” Creativity is key in coming up with new games for English learning. With these tools, kids can learn English in a fun and engaging way without even realizing it.