Category Archives: Travel

Those inspiring posts about moving to another country and finding a job are all lies

AKA things I wish my past self had known some before starting that would make my present self much less frustrated.

I’m not saying that the inspirational stories about living and working abroad are all wrong, but I do think that many of them sugar coat some things. Admittedly, I only have experience with one country so far, so maybe it’s less difficult in other places. I could rant about all the difficulties that have come up before I’ve even submitted a work visa application (like the fact that the form is supposed to be available online but it’s not, and when I called the office no one answered, and many attempts later the 10th number I called finally picked up, I got transferred three times, and then they told me that they don’t have the answer and to call the first number I called), but then this would just be a long an angry post.

I also don’t want to bash the idea of going out on a limb to live in another country. Even though there have been many headaches, and I’m sure there will be many more, I’m still not sorry to be here. I imagine that God is just having a good laugh at all of the times (daily!) that He’s calling me to be more patient.

If I could go back in time, though, I would have given myself a couple of pieces of advice regarding the whole work visa thing.

The first suggestion to myself would have been to do anything I could before leaving. I glanced at the process to apply before I left, but I didn’t notice that part of my application has to be a certificate of good standing from my government. Instead of just having that done ahead of time, I now have to mail them some forms, wait for them to do whatever it is they need to do, and then wait for the forms to be mailed back to me. Keep in mind that this process is lengthened by the fact that it takes a lot longer for mail to get here (though I’ll at least mail it priority on my end to expedite things).

My second suggestion to my past self is something that would have been more difficult to avoid. In summary, it turns out that it doesn’t matter that I have to wait a long time for a certificate of character from my country because I can’t apply for a work visa yet anyway. The reason is that once I apply, I can’t leave the country until it’s approved. Since I’m going to Barbados and Guadeloupe for my scholarship, I have to wait until I return to apply for the work visa. Had I known that, I *may* have planned those trips to be earlier in my scholarship window, and then I wouldn’t have the no-scholarship no-job interim that I now cannot avoid.

I’m sure that once this part is all taken care of, I’ll completely forget how frustrating it all was. That’ll be a nice day.

Until then, please pray for my sanity . . .

Caribbean House Tour

I live up the hill from Kevan with his grandmother and grandfather, but I spend most of the time with his grandmother. She is called Apo, which means “grandmother” in a Chinese dialect called Hakka. Apo was born in Jamaica but studied in Hong Kong when she was younger, so she speaks Hakka.

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Here’s the front of the house. On the left you can see a piece of the gate where you come in, and on the right is a retaining wall. The whole property is fenced in.
Here you can see the kitchen and dining area. You can see how you come into the kitchen from the car park. Apo let's me cook and use anything in the kitchen, so that's great.
Here you can see the kitchen and dining area. You can see how you come into the kitchen from the car park. Apo let’s me cook and use anything in the kitchen, so that’s great.
The living room is next to the dining room and also leads into the TV room, which is on the right. The bedrooms are down the hallway on the left.
The living room is next to the dining room and also leads into the TV room, which is on the right. The bedrooms are down the hallway on the left.

 

This is my room! I tried to get it mostly clean for the picture. The fan is positioned to keep mosquitoes off of me at night, and you can see on the nightstand a little white box that burns mosquito-repelling tablets.
This is my room! I tried to get it mostly clean for the picture. The fan is positioned to keep mosquitoes off of me at night, and you can see on the nightstand a little white box that burns mosquito-repelling tablets.
It's hard to get a picture, but here is an idea of my bathroom anyway. I should put the hair dryer in the closet since it is too hot to use it most of the time.
It’s hard to get a picture, but here is an idea of my bathroom anyway. I should put the hair dryer in the closet since it is too hot to use it most of the time.
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Finally, this is the yard. I get to swim anytime I want, and it’s also nice to sit out on the porch (if I’m wearing lots of bug spray and the fan is on!).

 

Not Living Abroad.

I guess I can’t actually write about “living abroad” for a while. When I arrived in Trinidad I was harshly reminded that I am not, in fact, living here. Yet.

Before Friday, my passport had five stamps from Trinidad and Tobago. Those five times through immigration were easy – they asked what I was doing and how long I was staying; I gave them Kevan’s name and my return date. This time, however, something threw up red flags for them. Perhaps because I said Kevan was my fiancé instead of my boyfriend. Maybe because I checked the “study” box in addition to the “visiting friends and family” box, they needed to know more. It could be that the attendant was just a very thorough person. Or maybe they’re reluctant about Americans since Trump and Clinton are the two major presidential candidates. Regardless of the reason, the woman asked me questions for twenty minutes, wrote down my whole life story, and then told me that I couldn’t enter the country unless I had a ticket to leave. So I sat in the middle of the floor near immigration and cried as I made an expensive phone call to Kevan on my U.S. phone (thanks Dad for keeping me on your plan until I got here, it really helped out) and bought a plane ticket for both of us to go to Barbados in two months.

An hour and a half after the plan landed, I finally left the airport, with my bags still thankfully waiting for me. At midnight after a full day of travel it felt pretty traumatizing, but now it feels like less than a hiccup. It’s especially a non-problem because – pro tip that was really just luck – the airline with which I had booked the tickets had a 24 hour refund policy. Though we do intend to go to Barbados at the end of October, cancelling the tickets without penalty was a happy ending since we can get multi-city, round-trip tickets at a better price.

Two takeaways I have learned from this event:
Keep the story simple to avoid suspicion/manymany questions (“I’m visiting my fiancé for two months” instead of “I’m visiting my fiancé for two months while I work on a scholarship project and the scholarship is from my university and I’m working with this person in your country and yes I can show you an e-mail from him and no I don’t have any certificate for the scholarship available to look at and . . .”).
When we go to Barbados and Guadaloupe, I will be sure to have either a work visa or a ticket to go somewhere else to avoid all this trouble. Apparently you can get stay as a visitor for six months (for $100TTD, or approximately $15USD), so if I don’t have a work visa by then perhaps I’ll do the extension and just buy my ticket to go back to Illinois in April for the wedding.

As an answer to a question, Trinidad does not do fiancé(e) visas. I will most likely apply for residency after Kevan and I are married, but we’ll see how the work visa thing goes.

 

Sorting through every single thing I own

I leave in a little over two months. In addition to school and work and wedding planning, I need to organize the daunting amount of possessions that I own to decide what’s being discarded, sold, and taken with me.

Four years ago I had a different packing experience as I prepared to study in France for a year. I wasn’t about to pay extra for a second suitcase, so I really worked to limit what I brought. I even cut my hair so that I wouldn’t feel the need to bring a hair dryer or straightener. I packed light enough that I even had enough room to stuff a pillow in my suitcase, which turned out to be an excellent decision as it was much more comfortable to have that than the pillow that had been left for me that had been who-knows-where. I wore my five-ish outfits into the ground and returned with a suitcase that was only half full because many of my things were too disgusting to bring back.

Although I lived happily 10 months abroad without all of the material items by which I am currently surrounded, the idea of giving up these things for good is difficult.

Several days ago I had a burst of motivation and decided to go through all of the clothes I own. I even made little labels (ripped up pieces of paper with sharpie on them, how organized) for my different categories: Clothes to bring to Trinidad, clothes to last the rest of the summer, clothes to leave at my mom’s house (winter things for when I visit), clothes to discard, and clothes for the garage sale that my mom and I have been meaning to have for years.

After a quick overhaul of my dresser and closet, the piles were done. The Trinidad pile could have easily filled too large suitcases, and I still have to fit in books, shoes, and whatever else. I dug through it, lamentingly removed a few things, and looked again. It could have filled one and a half large suitcases.

Let me tell you an uninteresting story about my stuff. I’ve left some things in Trinidad on previous visits, so I already have clothes there. And if I’m honest with myself, I probably have nearly enough clothes there as it is.

Did you ever read any Little House on the Prairie books? While bumpily traveling out west in a covered wagon, sisters Mary and Laura Ingalls shared one tin cup. Laura had two dresses; a Sunday dress and a working dress. For Christmas one year, Laura was given a rag doll that was one of her most treasured possessions (and maybe the only real toy she ever had). There’s something in a simple, comparatively stuff-less life that appeals to us. When I was discerning religious life, one of the greatest calls for me was poverty: living with few material things and taking excellent care of the things we do have.

I DON’T NEED ALL THIS STUFF. It’s in all caps because I’m trying to convince myself, too.

This move is going to be an amazing exercise in detachment from things.

A one-way flight to the Caribbean

This is the point in my life where I begin looking for a one-way flight to Trinidad. Who knew.

This is the dream that a lot of people dream about. Many blog posts and articles pop up on facebook that have titles like, “How I quit my job to travel the world!” or “I sold everything I own and moved to <random cool location> and found a job there.” And it’s exciting, and you think to yourself, why don’t I just do that? But you don’t, and I don’t, and it’s probably because the idea sounds great, but the reality is that it will cost a lot of money, and travel bloggers are thing but it’s maybe not your thing, and you’re not sure you could even get a job if you go to this place, and what about all the paperwork you’ll have to do to live and work somewhere else assuming you do find a job, and there’s the fact that you don’t know anybody there, plus how long are you going to stay and how many family gatherings and weddings (or – as much as you might not want to think about it – funerals) are you going to miss?

One of these fears has already been taken care of for me. I’m not moving to Trinidad on a whim, I’m moving there to be with Kevan, who conveniently has a very full network of family and friends and family-friends who are all fun and welcoming and supportive. On that same note, I have a place to stay: I’ll be living with Kevan’s grandmother to start off (who lives just up the road from Kevan – also convenient), and although I’m going to give her money for rent, it’ll be much less than if I were to actually rent an apartment there. Kevan tells me that she is excited to have me and has been telling him about the food she’s going to cook for me.

While this knowledge is extremely comforting, the rest of my fears are quite present.
What if I can’t get a job that pays enough to support myself and also to work to pay back my student loans? Average salaries there are much less than the U.S., but the cost of living is comparable.
What about traveling back to see friends and family? All the people close to me are scattered around the country, so with one trip per year I’d likely only see a few people, and that’s if it’s really well planned.

While I do not have a job, my first two months there will be spent traveling and working on a project for a scholarship that I won. That’s another thing that has fallen into place really well, because I can job search while doing that, and it’ll be easier to job search from there than from here. I am also fortunate that I’ll have Kevan’s family and friends looking for a job for me too.

I thought my fears rant was going to be much longer. I actually typed a few and then deleted them because it felt silly. One was weddings – I have four close friends whose weddings I really, really want to attend. However, none of them are engaged yet, and based off of the current state of things they’ll likely get married far apart from each other, so it won’t be unreasonable to attend all of them. Another is paperwork, but ultimately that will be just a pain and not a showstopper.

Overall, I’m pumped for this adventure. I’m grateful that I have this opportunity, and that so many things are falling into place for this to happen. I know that I have a lot of surprises ahead of me. I’ll have many opportunities to learn and overcome challenges. There will be times when I’ll be frustrated or confused, but I’m hopeful that those moments will be greatly outnumbered by the happy and fulfilling moments. I’m excited to see how everything plays out.

 

 

Missed Buses

I had an overnight layover in Miami on my way back from Trinidad (I stayed in a hotel instead of the airport which was nice and totally worth it). My flight from Miami to Chicago the next day was delayed, and it was looking like I was going to miss the bus back to Champaign. I was upset at the added hurdle because it’s already a long day of traveling, and in addition to the bus to Champaign I would still need to take another bus and then walk to get to my apartment.

At 10:05am I was on the phone with Peoria Charter while waiting for my bag in the airport 10 minutes before my bus was supposed to leave. The next bus to Champaign that had any openings left at 10:30 that evening, but there was a 12:50pm bus that I could take to Peoria. “Great, let’s do that.” I hung up the phone and my bag appeared on the conveyor belt. My original bus was scheduled to leave in 5 minutes.

I thought about running out there while calling the lady back, hopping on it and being on my way, but the idea of getting picked up in Peoria by my mom and letting her feed me had already won me over.

I had two hours to wait for the bus, and while I was waiting there was an announcement that there would be a Catholic Mass in the interfaith chapel in the airport. Oh yes, that is for me. I didn’t even know that the airport had an interfaith chapel, but I went there and the Mass was lovely.

I got on the bus to go to Peoria and a woman sat down next to me. I asked her where she was from, and she said “No English only French,” so I asked spoke with her in (extremely rusty) French. I still don’t actually know where she was from, except that she was born in the Congo and her father is a university professor somewhere and she was going to Bloomington to see her sister. She was confused about her stop so I asked the driver some questions for her and she used my phone to call her sister.

My mother picked me up in Peoria and fed me a big salad for dinner, which was just great since I’d spent over 24 hours eating things like chips and granola bars and cookies. Also we had wine.

This morning my mom and I went to my grandparents house and had an early lunch there before my mom drove me back to Champaign, dropping me conveniently at my doorstep.

I complain a lot to Kevan about the fact that we live so far away from each other. I tell him that it sucks and I am so ready to not live 2,500 miles apart anymore. I want to be frustrated at God for setting us up for a prolonged long-distance relationship, though I guess I know better than that. I tell myself that God probably wants to teach me something by it, but of course I won’t know for five or ten years what it is. At least in the meantime I can try to remember that it’s not always terrible to get from here to there, and missing a bus might not mean the end of the world, and maybe my original plan, even a small one, isn’t the best plan in the end.