culture, resources, travel tips

How to Survive the Language Barrier

multilingual language barrier

What do I think is the biggest barrier to worldwide travel? Languages. Ugh! Sometimes I just have to throw my head back and ask God if He could have possibly done anything different to take care of the Tower of Babel issue without spurring all these different languages. I mean, really. If everyone in the entire world spoke the same language, wouldn’t you be much more comfortable traveling in foreign countries? Of course, language is one of the cultural differences that helps make each location unique, but there certainly is an advantage to knowing the native language! And a big problem with Europe is that, with each different country I hope to go to, I’ll be exposed to a completely different language.

I have taken multiple trips to Latin America (Mexico and Peru), all which were done during my high school and college years. Because I knew while I was still in middle school that I wanted to visit one of these countries, I began studying a bit of the Spanish language. Having a purpose for learning a language certainly does help when it comes to studying! Fortunately, I had already been given a program that would be a huge help:

rosetta stone

Using Rosetta Stone was a good primer for Spanish vocabulary, and I do appreciate that it uses pictures to help you identify rather than English words. (It’s almost, but not quite, like immersion.) This program was my only real Spanish study experience before my first trip to Mexico. It turned out that everyone in the tourist ports I visited would speak in English, but I was able to decipher many of the signs. Still, I don’t think I would be able to hold a conversation at all!

The next school year, I began taking Spanish class, and would continue to do so through college. I did have a bit of an advantage thanks to my foundation with Rosetta Stone, but the Spanish class itself was taught much differently, and I will say much more effectively. I’m sure it helped a lot to have that face-to-face interaction with someone who was actually fluent! My first year of Spanish class was by far the most effective, and although I was barely conversational at the end of the year, I had all the tools I needed to interact with the people I visited in Peru that summer. I’m not sure if it was because I learned so much by immersion in Peru, or because I couldn’t get my original Spanish class teacher for the following years, but the subsequent years did not seem as effective for me. Sure, I learned some, but not as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, I’m not actually supposed to know Spanish during my time in Spain. (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!)

diverbo

Diverbo is a Spain-based one-week language learning program… for learning English, that is! Spaniards who are book-smart in their English studies, but may not be comfortable in English conversation, come to this retreat where no Spanish speaking is allowed. So how do they improve at their conversation skills? Diverbo gets volunteers from English-speaking countries to spend a free week at a Spanish resort in exchange for talking, talking, and talking. I have been accepted to be on the waiting list for an upcoming program. I really do hope I get selected. Besides, it’s been so long since I last took a Spanish class, I won’t be tempted to utter a word of it. Let’s just hope I retained enough to survive in the city!

If Spanish and English were the only languages spoken in Europe, I would have packed my bags and headed out long ago. But, oddly enough, none of the countries I’m going to are primarily English, and Spain is the only one with primarily Spanish. If I really wanted to converse like a local, I would have to also learn French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, and perhaps a couple more languages. So how to deal with that?

Duolingo_logo

I recently started taking lessons from Duolingo. At first, I thought it would be most beneficial to learn French. But after a few lessons, I got frustrated with the way words are pronounced and figured that Paris is close enough to England that all I would need was a convincing British accent. So, just while taking a break from French, I started the Italian course. Wow, I grabbed a hold of that language MUCH easier! And while I can’t figure out how to drop French from my Duolingo languages, I don’t have to worry about giving up that commitment. Duolingo is completely FREE and you can choose from many different learning languages including Portuguese, German, and, coming soon, Klingon! Lessons can be completed on a computer or with the phone app. And I’m not sure about other brands of smartphones, but with the Android app, you don’t even have to be online to work on lessons! There are some downsides to Duolingo, though. A biggie is that, unlike Rosetta Stone, it does not try to simulate immersion and heavily relies on translation. I also downloaded the Rosetta Stone app, and while I haven’t really used it since it works slower than Duolingo, I probably should compare the two to see which one will teach me better Italian. Overall, I think Italian will be the best third language for me in Europe since I will spend more time in Italy than any other country, and it will probably be useful in Italy’s surrounding nations as well. One problem is that it has a lot of similarities to Spanish, and I’m already getting them mixed up in my mind!

However, with all this language learning, I have yet to set foot anywhere close to Europe. From what I understand, most Europeans learn English in school as it is the language of business, so maybe I could get by with just that. Or maybe hand gestures and miming would suffice. But I don’t know. What do I need to know about surviving the language barrier in Europe? 

Note: None of the programs mentioned in this post are affiliates or sponsors. I just wanted to voice my opinions about the studies I’ve experienced and I’m interested in hearing about the experiences of others!

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#ThrowbackThursday, Bucket List

Travel I Can Cross Off My Bucket List

Yesterday, I posted my current Travel Bucket List. However, while I’m looking forward to hopefully accomplishing all those things in the future, I think it’s important to also look back on previous accomplishments. While I don’t plan every single trip around my goals, once I have a trip planned, I try to take advantage of any opportunities available to apply that trip to working towards a goal. I often accomplish several goals in one trip, which is why you’ll see that I have often done several goals at the same time. Here are some things that are no longer on my bucket list, because I actually did them!

1. Go to Chicago. (September 2014)

2. Eat pizza in Chicago. (September 2014)

3. Go up the Willis Tower and stand on the Skydeck. (September 2014- Okay, I’m done with the Chicago goals!)

On the Willis Tower Skydeck...before eating pizza...in Chicago.
On the Willis Tower Skydeck…before eating pizza…in Chicago.

4. Live away from the Pacific states. (August 2011)

5. Visit Amish Country. (October 2013 in Holmes County, plus two other trips within the following year)

6. Go to the Creation Museum. (March 2014)

Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem
Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem

7. Vacation in Hawaii. (April 2001, Oahu)

8. Go to Walt Disney World. (May 1999, plus three more times, all in May during my birthday!)

9. Bike around a major city. (May 2014, Columbus)

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

10. Be in two places at once a la A Walk to Remember. (March 2013, Nebraska/Iowa, also internationally in July 2014 at New York/Ontario)

11. Visit a different country. (December 2005, Mexico; July 2007 in Peru was the first time I stayed the night inside the country)

12. Visit a different continent. (July 2007 and August 2009, Peru, South America)

Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru
Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru

13. Visit Canada. (July 2014, Niagara Falls)

14. Go on a mission trip. (July 2007, Posada de Amor in Peru, plus several other trips after)

15. Go to Seattle. (March 2004 was my first trip)

16. Go to Nashville. (September/October 2012)

In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville
In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

17. Go to Niagara Falls. (July 2014)

18. Take an overnight train trip. (December 2011, from Nebraska to Oregon)

19. Go on a cruise. (December 2005, California and Baja)

20. Support overseas orphans. (Not including Latin American mission trips, I’ve sponsored Nelly in Zambia since 2013.)

Nelly, the teenager I sponsor through Every Orphan’s Hope

21. Fly first class. (January 2013, from Denver to Omaha)

22. See Mount Rushmore. (August 2011)

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

23. Be in the nation’s Capitol. (June 2007 in Washington DC, also in Peru’s capitol of Lima in July 2007 and August 2009)

24. Go to New York, New York. (June 2007)

TIESS3 209
On a class trip to the East Coast

25. See historic Philadelphia. (June 2007)

26. Travel out-of-state without my parents. (March 2003 to Washington, and many, many, many trips since!)

27. Travel by myself. (This one’s ambiguous: in 2001 I flew by myself but was picked up by family at my destination, in August 2011 I moved to Nebraska for an internship, in September 2012 I went to Tennessee for two weeks but one week was spent with a friend, in August 2013 I took a solo road trip to get to Ohio for my new job… if none of the previous count to you has having traveled by myself, then I definitely took several trips over the past year that would certainly count!)

In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska
In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska

28. Drive more than an hour. (First time was February 2013 from Twin City area in Minnesota to somewhere in Iowa)

29. Drive the entire way on a road trip. (First time was August 2013 from Fremont, NE to Marengo, OH)

30. See a Great Lake. (First saw Lake Erie November 2013, within the next several months also saw Ontario and Michigan)

Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago
Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago

31. See the Atlantic Ocean. (June 2007)

32. Go to Colorado, but not just inside an airport. (October 2011, Estes Park, visited twice later on)

33. Buy a car (August 2012, bought a y2k red Ford Explorer, sadly sold August 2014)

My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)
My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)

34. Go to Yellowstone National Park to watch Old Faithful, see large wild animals, and stand on the Continental Divide. (July-ish 2002?)

35. Take a tethered balloon ride. (July 2010)

36. Sleep (inside a car) in a Walmart parking lot. (September 2013)

37. See Multnomah Falls. (September 2014)

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls in Northern Oregon

38. Go on an extended whitewater rafting trip. (May 2011, Rogue River)

39. Take a trip with only carry-on luggage. (September/October 2011, Tennessee, and nearly every trip ever since!)

40. Ride the Greyhound. (July 2014, and again in August/September 2014)

Good Ol' Greyhound
Good Ol’ Greyhound

41. Go waterskiing/wakeboarding. (July 2004 was my first waterski attempt, July 2006 proved more successful and was also my wakeboard introduction)

42. Sleep all night in a hammock. (July 2012, at the top of a 60-foot tower overlooking the Platte River)

43. Stay in a hostel. (September 2012, Music City Hostel in Nashville; hostels are now my favorite accommodation!)

44. Attend a Christian music festival. (September 2011, Lifelight South Dakota)

Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert
Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert

45. See The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. (June 2007)

46. Visit the three main countries that make up North America. (Started at birth in the U.S., ended in Canada July 2014)

47. Hike from base to summit of a mountain. (The tallest so far was Harney Peak in South Dakota August 2011, but was preceded by Mount Humbug and both Table Rocks in Oregon)

This building is at the very top of Harney's Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there
This building is at the very top of Harney’s Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there

48. Ride a roller coaster that goes upside-down. (May 2003, Disney’s Rock n Roller Coaster, and of course with visits to more “adventurous” theme parks like Six Flags Marine World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Adventureland, I’ve been on dozens more)

49. Be invited to a movie screening before it comes to theaters. (July 2011 for Courageous; I’ve also gone to Grace Unplugged, Moms’ Night Out, and When the Game Stands Tall)

50. Become a travel writer (started professionally writing November 2008!)

So there you have it: my top 50 travel accomplishments! I’m looking forward to adding more to this list!

souvenir, Travel Journal Tuesdays, writing

Travel Journal Tuesday

A little over five years ago, my grandmother gave me a travel journal. I had previously kept some sort of documentation for some of my travels. During my first mission trip to Peru, I had brought along one of those cheap spiral-bound school notebooks where I wrote about my thoughts, feelings, and activities of each day. I don’t know where that journal is anymore. When I started my first job by the Pacific Coast, I was diligent to journal for each of my thirty-three days of employment. Again, it was a not-so-special spiral-bound journal. I don’t know where that journal is anymore, either. When my tenth-grade class flew to the East Coast, our tour company provided everyone with a colorful booklet with blank lines and writing prompts. I normally would have loved to use something like this, but since we had to turn it in to be graded, I may have been a little snarky and short in what I wrote. I don’t think I even finished filling out that journal, and its possible that it was destroyed after my teacher read it. I really don’t know where that journal is anymore! Even as far back as elementary school, I recall that my second-grade teacher gave us her handmade journals so we could write and draw about our adventures during school holidays, plus anytime we were taken out of school for a vacation (such as my first trip to Disney World). I’m sure my mom has those memories stored somewhere, but I don’t know where that journal is anymore!

Travel Journal Cover

But when I received this beautiful travel journal, I knew right away that this would be superior to all previous travel journals. I initially used it to record my experience on my 2009 mission trip to Peru. Since then, I’ve taken it along to recount my days on my 2010 Northwest choir tour, my mission trip to Mexico, my backpacker vacation to Tennessee, my international trip to Niagara Falls, and my bus ride across the country. And I know exactly where this journal is. It’s the centerpiece of one of my travel-themed shelves!

Travel Memento Shelf

I don’t write in my journal for every trip I take. For weekend trips and other trips where I try to cram too much in too few days, I believe its a better use of my time to go out and experience as much as I can instead of taking a break to write about it. I also haven’t kept a journal for any trips that are primarily focused on working, such as camp conferences I’ve attended. I don’t think it would be interesting to read my journal years later about how I sat in meetings for most of the day. I memorialized these sorts of trips in different ways, such as photography, videos, or blogging. (If you visit The Rivercrester, you can read about almost everything I did while living in Nebraska, from the cool trips that I took to the times I was stuck at camp and only wishing that I could travel!) I don’t really have a criteria for which trips are worthy of my travel journal, but it’s treated like a near-sacred relic, so I use it for the trips that I feel are the most important.

This journal has a great layout, including a bookmark, a secure band, and a pocket inside the back cover to hold small mementos. Each page has plenty of room to write, plus an extra box to emphasize my highlight of the day. I also really like that each page has both a travel quote and a travel-themed Bible verse. It’s almost like having a mini-devotional each day of travel. I can usually fit everything worth mentioning about one day on one of these pages, but on some of the more mundane days (like all-day transit or staying at someone’s house), I can fit two days on one page. There have even been days that were so full of events and emotions, it was a challenge to fit everything even on two pages!

Travel Journal Entry Page

I had never really considered whether or not my journal was suitable for sharing. It wasn’t until a few months ago when I was journaling in the commons area of a Canadian hostel. A Japanese guy sat down next to me, and attempted to make conversation as a way for him to learn English. When he noticed the book on my lap, he asked if it was a diary. Then, he asked to read it! I handed it to him, and maybe it was because I was pretty sure he wouldn’t understand most of the content, but I felt okay with letting him look at it.

After thinking about that ever since starting this website, I decided that I am comfortable sharing the contents of my diary with the internet-connected world. I may change names to protect the innocent or remove pieces that don’t make sense outside the context of my own mind, but I’m willing to be real and unfiltered. So starting next Tuesday, I will have a “Travel Journal Tuesday” where I will post a journal entry every week until I run out. Even though my journal’s only halfway filled right now, I have enough entries to last until at least next summer! Enjoy!

Do you keep a journal for any reason? How do you remember your travels?

culture, resources, travel tips, voluntourism

Should You Become a Voluntourist?

Most of my travels are not simply vacations. On the contrary, I like to use my travel experience as a way to give back to the communities I visit. It all started with a mission trip to Cieneguilla, Peru, back in 2007.

Volunteer in Posada de Amor Peru Orphanage
My friend Erika and I with our little Peruvian friend Melissa.

My high school youth group went to the Posada de Amor orphanage and their neighboring Eliel Christian School. We did construction and painting projects, taught English, and spent quality time with the children. I had such a great experience, I returned two years later.

Playing games with the Rayitos group at Posada.

In 2010, I heard about another church that owned a mission in Carmen Serdan, Mexico. They offered trips for people to help out with the handicapped orphans they care for. I went along, and although we didn’t see even one touristy thing, I had a great time!

The orphans at the Mexico mission were all ages, such as 41-year-old Lupe.

Even though I haven’t gone on another “mission trip” since then, I have incorporated volunteering into elements of my travels. Ever since I was old enough to help, I’ve loved volunteering at camps offered by the Girl Scouts and churches, like this time at Camp Tadmor near Lebanon, Oregon.

Tadmor 031
Some of the nine girls in the yurt I was in charge of.

When I went to Nashville in 2012, I realized that was the headquarters of a nonprofit magazine that I write for. Before going, I e-mailed the editor asking if we could meet. She responded, saying I was coming during important planning days for the magazine, and I was invited to help with this. I was glad to help out!

2012-09-20 20.57.39
In the building where we worked on Devozine.

This past summer in Niagara Falls, I learned about a ministry called the Magdalene Project, which helps homeless people, prostitutes, and low-income families. I called up the director and asked how I could help. After asking me about my skills and passions, she offered to let me help chaperone a trip with their kids’ club.

Niagara Falls 2014 507
Daisy and I touring Fort Niagara.

After all this volunteering in my travels (the buzzword for this is “voluntourism”), you’d think I would encourage everyone to go out and try to volunteer on all their travels, right? Well, sort of. I’ve learned a lot since my first trip to Peru, and I’m now more selective about how I voluntour.

Before I volunteer afar, I volunteer near home. I taught a local youth group a game where they got to slap peanut butter bread on me!
Before I volunteer afar, I volunteer near home. I taught a local youth group a game where they got to slap peanut butter bread on me!

I think the most important rule is this: if you wouldn’t volunteer at home, you shouldn’t volunteer while you travel. Hapless volunteering is a terrible way to try to make your trip meaningful. If you want to volunteer while you travel, find a local charity to work with before your trip. This will help you gain experience and make sure you’re cut out for the job. Don’t want to help near your home? I hate to break this to you, but this indicates that you shouldn’t volunteer afar either. If you want to help your destination’s community, you can still make a difference by purchasing from family-owned shops, staying at local accommodations, or sending donations to worthy causes. You must be dedicated to give your time.

Comparing heights with little Angela and her tutora. This is one of the local women who are hired to care for the orphans, thus forming a long-lasting and mutually effective relationship.
Comparing heights with little Angela and her tutora. This is one of the local women who are hired to care for the orphans, thus forming a long-lasting and mutually effective relationship.

I’ve also learned that just because an opportunity exists doesn’t mean I should go for it. In fact, this can potentially hurt their community! For example, our Peru trip leader told us that two of our tasks were to play with kids and do construction. The problem was, I never picked up a power tool before! I should have at least learned the basics before going. Better yet, the money spent on my plane ticket could pay local experienced construction workers to do the work. Then, instead of just helping the orphanage and school, we could help local impoverished workers as well!

Now, while I’m no construction expert, I do know how to play with kids. But was that beneficial? The kids did have fun playing with us, but I know it hurt everyone emotionally when we left. Volunteering long-term, or at least keeping in touch through letters and frequent visits, would be a less harmful way to form relationships.

Looking back, I think the one thing we did that was of real value was teach English. This is a sought-after skill in business, thus breaking the cycle of poverty. Since we were the only native English speakers in that area, we were best suited in this department.

The kids in this program were told I was just helping for one day to prevent attachment. I was able to utilize my childcare and health skills in the pool and at the park. (The kids also got the treat of sharing my waterproof camera in the pool!)
The kids in this program were told I was helping for just one day. I was able to utilize my childcare and health skills in the pool and at the park. (The kids also loved sharing my waterproof camera in the pool!)

Contrast this to my recent voluntourism experiences. Before I went to Niagara Falls, I talked with the ministry director and offered to help in any way needed. (I also worded it so she wouldn’t feel obligated to place me if it was a hassle to get me involved.) She did what all charity leaders should do: asked questions! She wanted to know about my past volunteer experience, profession, church involvement, and even my hobbies! With that information, she could find the role where I would be most effective, which happened to be chaperoning a field trip.

Same thing goes with my experience in Nashville. If I hadn’t spent several years writing for Devozine, I would have been more of a burden than a blessing. In addition, I didn’t waste money by making special volunteer trips. I’d already planned extended travel in these places, so I was able to maximize my buying power by staying in locally-owned small hostels, buying from local businesses, and spending time learning about the actual culture and needs of the area.

Are you still interested in voluntouring? If you’ve read this far, I assume you are. The above wasn’t meant to scare people from voluntouring (because it CAN be a meaningful and helpful endeavor), but rather to just get people thinking about how they voluntour. I could continue to provide information on other things to think about, such as your ability and availability, safety limitations, legal requirements, and how to find worthy organizations to voluntour with, but all this information could fill a book! Instead, I’ll refer you to someone who already wrote a book! I learned a lot from Kirsty Henderson, a worldwide traveler who has volunteered in several countries. She wrote The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. The eight chapters are filled with essential information, such as why you should (or should not!) pay a fee to volunteer, different types of volunteering, and a guide with a country-by-country breakdown of organizations you can help and what they provide their volunteers. I used this to discover a few opportunities that I’m looking forward to being a part of!

I would like to thank Kirsty Henderson for providing me with a digital copy of The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. And no, she didn’t pay me to say nice things about it- I just really like her book!