Adventures in Chile

This blog will follow my adventures traveling around South America and teaching English in Santiago, Chile.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Starting the Year Off Right

I'm feeling good about the start of 2017.

Research shows that one of the keys to happiness is social connections, and I've been keeping pretty busy over the past few weeks.

A friend of mine was visiting Chile with his family and had a day at the end of their trip in Santiago, so we met up.  We walked up Cerro San Cristobal, and it was interesting talking with them about our experiences traveling and living abroad.  I made it to the top, but it showed me how I've slowed down and gotten out of shape over the past few years.  It was New Years Day, and so it was a nice start to the year.

I also met up with some friends that were back in Chile for a visit.  They're now married and have a son, and it was great catching up and talking about what has happened in the past 3 years.  We both came to Chile with TeachingChile, so it's amazing to think about how our lives have changed since then.

Another friend of mine has been really patient and helpful getting the games and data from my Wii transferred over to my Wii U.  If you're doing so in Chile, it requires the use of two transformers since you must have both systems on at the same time.  Rodrigo brought his transformer over, and the first time we tried to do the transfer it didn't work with my SD card.  The second time was much better, and it took some time but was worth it.  It gave us time to talk about life and to get to know each other a bit better.

I'm not usually the type to go out for drinks at night, but some friends of mine (actually former students from 2012) wanted to meet and catch up.  We met in Bellavista.  For those of you that aren't familiar with it, it's the area where people go to drink and dance.  It's run down and a bit dodgy, and I typically don't like going there.  But it was worth it.  Talking about what's been going on in our lives since we had last seen each other (probably a year or so ago) was really nice, and we also talked about the other students in the class and reminisced about the fun we had then.  It's cool hearing about their careers progressing and them buying apartments and improving their lives.  Even though we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like, it's always nice when we do get to catch up.

Then this past weekend I visited a friend down in Concepción.  His cousin was staying with him, and it was interesting getting to know him.  We went out for dinner on Friday night, and then I taught them how to play Settlers of Catan.  On Saturday we went to the beach, and it was really relaxing.  That night we played two more games of Catan, but this time with another cousin joining us.  Even with all three of them teaming up against me I still remained victorious.  We ended up playing until 3:00 in the morning.

Here are some pictures from the beach trip:


I don't think this photo does justice to show how white my feet were.
I almost stepped on him!




Climbing up on the rocks
Almost to the top!
I made it!
Selfie!  It was so windy up there that I made my way
back right after snapping this.


Staying socially engaged over these past few weeks and the quiet time at the beach has helped me make some realizations.

I don't like the atmosphere of Bellavista too much, but I have let negativity and fear of getting robbed prevent me from going there.  The likelihood of that actually happening is pretty low, especially if I'm walking with my friends and stay alert.  In the end going there was fine.

The other realization came when I was at the beach.  There were some huge rocks along the beach that you could climb up on, and it looked like the perfect opportunity to take some beautiful pictures.  My thoughts immediately went to the possibility of slipping and falling and breaking a bone and going to the emergency room.  At that moment I thought, "What has happened to me?"  I had gone from being adventurous and risk-taking to being worried and afraid of the worst case scenario.

I decided I wasn't going to let that fear keep me from getting some nice photos.  As I walked over to the rocks, I took a deep breath and started climbing up.  "One foot at a time, watch out for the moss because it's slippery", I told myself.  Slowly but surely I made it to the highest area, and damn was it windy.  Even though I wasn't that high up off the ground, the wind was strong and was making me feel a bit off balance.  I took some photos and snapped a few selfies before carefully making my way back.

This is a great start to the year, and I'm looking forward to continuing to engage socially.  In the past I've let the rejection from friendships not working out affect me a bit too much, but at the same time it has been a valuable learning experience.  

Despite a less than ideal political situation back in the States that has me worried for the well-being of friends that are minorities and vulnerable to new policies that may be enacted as well as a rise in hate crimes, I'm choosing to remain optimistic and speak out in the face of injustice.  I know that last part is easier said than done, but here's to giving it a try.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflections on 2016

It's New Year's Eve, and I'm relaxing in my apartment.

Outside I hear pounding music from a celebration, most likely from one of the bars across the street.  The are lights on and people talking on the balcony of the apartment building that is now across the street from mine, and some of them still have Christmas lights hanging up.  (Note to self- I should get around to installing curtains sometime in 2017).

It's been so long that I don't quite know where to start with this post.  

What are the highlights of the year?

Paying off my student loans is a huge one.  Having had them hanging over me with every paycheck I got (or didn't get at times) and each financial decision was a huge weight on my shoulders, and I'm glad that it's one that is gone.  I managed to pay them off in 10 years, saving huge amounts of money in what would have been thousands of dollars in interest.

The trip with my dad to Universal Studios in February was great.  He gets to travel a lot with other members of the family, so finding a place he'd like to travel to can be a challenge.  I noticed that they had an area of the park devoted to The Simpsons and he's also a Harry Potter fan.  Logistically it took some planning since I was coming up from Miami and he was flying in from Philadelphia, but it worked out fine.  My dad has always been there for me no matter what, and being able to take a trip with him and pay for his ticket was a way for me to show my appreciation for all he's done helping me grow up and his unwavering support as I follow my dreams.

This year I joined a business networking alliance, and it has been a great experience.  Talking with other business owners has helped me to continue adding value to my classes.  Monthly meetings were great to get to know other people in my shoes, and I think they won't all just be business connections but also friendships.

In November, I took a trip back to Jersey for a friend's wedding and also celebrated another wedding in Chile. They were both beautiful events, and I felt so happy to be included in their lives.  Besides the wedding in New Jersey, I also went to a concert with a friend and enjoyed time catching up with my dad and other friends.  It was so nice feeling appreciated and that people were genuinely happy to see me, and it also reaffirmed my choices of who I keep in my life.

There were other highlights, albeit less important: going to a Coldplay concert unexpectedly was an important reminder to stay open to new experiences, and catching up with friends in Lima and Concepción for a weekend helped me realize how important travel is to me, the values that we share, and how much I value my friendship with them.  Regular meetings to play Setters of Catan with friends have been a lot of fun and also a bonding experience.  Presenting at IATEFL Chile was a great experience.  Two of my friends gave TED talks this year, and I was fortunate to have been there for one of them.  They are both great people that are doing amazing things, and they have been an inspiration to keep growing and chasing after my dreams and goals.

What are the downs from this year?

Death has taken some people far too early in their lives.  A friend of mine lost her husband to cancer, another friend lost her son to health complications, and another friend lost her mother due to heart problems.  None of these people got to live life to their full potential, and while I had never met these three people in person, from what I've heard of them they were great people that still had a lot more to do on this earth.  I have been left with feelings of sadness and not exactly knowing what to do to help my friends recover from their losses.

Some opportunities that I had to develop professionally didn't work out the way I had hoped.  A company I was teaching classes to directly decided overnight to stop, leaving me with huge spaces in my schedule after they had committed to taking classes for the entire year.  I took them for their word and didn't draw up a formal contract to hold them to, so it took some time to recover financially.  Other classes didn't follow through with their commitment which is disappointing, but sometimes happens.

Developing social connections isn't always easy.  I've put myself out there trying to get to know people and develop friendships, and a few times this year I've fallen flat on my face with failure.  It has hurt and made me feel stupid for trying, but at least I took the chance rather than not knowing.

I also tried living this year according to other people's standards.  I've felt guilty for spending money traveling (despite it being something that makes me happy) and have doubted the correctness of the lifestyle I've chosen.  This doubt has made me spiral downward into the patterns of sleeping excessively, eating unhealthily, and watching TV to escape the reality of my feelings.  The amount of lost time and potential is disappointing looking back.  Over time I've realized that I should just live life according to my standards and not worry about keeping others happy.  Sometimes I need that reminder.

What are my lessons from this year?

I've learned to say "no" to things that no longer serve me or aren't for my highest food.  Not everyone is going to like me in life, and lots of distractions are going to come along to complete for my attention and time.  I've started learning to focus my time and energy on what's important.

I've become better at trusting my instinct.  Sometimes I've felt an intuition that someone or something wasn't quite right, and I've gone with it.  It's hard to say if it has been right or not 100% of the time, but I've  seen it work out right in a few instances.

I've learned to look for those (healthy) things that are going to stay constant in my life.  I know that every Wednesday I can listen to Gretchen Rubin's podcast Happier, from which I will most likely pick up a nugget of wisdom.  I know that I have guided meditations I can listen to as well as healthy food that is easy to make that isn't far from where I live.

I think my biggest lesson is that I'm learning to stay true to myself.  I've started speaking up to express my opinion, even if it's not popular.  I've had conversations with people expressing a viewpoint that has clashed with theirs, and being able to hold my emotions in check but express myself clearly has been a bit accomplishment.  I've learned that sometimes it's best to let go of friendships and relationships that are no longer healthy or positive.  Despite that, it's still great to see the beauty that there was in a friendship and the positives that occurred over a period of time.

So, what does 2017 have in store?

Spending time with friends and strengthening my social connections.  Numerous studies show that social connections are a key component to a happy and healthy life.

Figuring out how I can keep developing personally and professionally.  (Maybe I should get around to reading the numerous books I've acquired over the past few years that are collecting dust or are untouched on my tablet)

A trip to Europe, partially in celebration of paying off my student loans and partially as a way to rekindle my desire to travel.

A Linkin Park concert in Santiago in May.  This will be their second time in Chile and my second time seeing them here.

Cultivating healthy habits and staying true to myself, the values, and the standards that I choose to live by.

Wherever you're reading this from, I hope that you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Resparking My Sense of Adventure

For those of you that know me or have been following my blog, you know that I have been in Chile for over six and a half years now.  In that period of time, it has been easy to fall into patterns and habits and not really try things that are new or different.

Well, I had a reminder about how long I've been here as well as some inspiration from a podcast I listen to.

The first thing that happened was that my BIP card has stopped working.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with the public transportation system in Santiago, you load money onto a plastic card the size of a credit card.  When you get on the bus or subway, you hold it up to an electronic sensor, and it automatically deducts the cost of the trip from your balance on the card. Given the name, it's no surprise that the reader produces a loud pitched beep after scanning your card.

I've had my BIP card since the day I came to Chile.  It was given to me as a part of my welcome packet with TeachingChile, and I had never had any other card until that point.  As the woman told me that it was no longer working to reload it with money, it made me think about all of the travelling I'd done all over the city with the card.  I bought a new one but  have saved the old one as a momento.

That made me think about how I'd lost my sense of adventure this year.  I'm not talking about the travel to another part of Chile or another country and see amazing sights kind of adventure.  I'm talking about being spontaneous, exploring new parts of the city, and taking the time to just do something different from my routine kind of adventure.

This made me think back to a podcast that I had heard the week before.  In her podcast called Happier, Gretchen Rubin spoke about going on an errand date as a way of having an enjoyable afternoon and evening, and she told the story of running mundane errands with her husband but taking their time and then deciding to stop and get drinks at a nice bar they had often passed by before but never visited.  It turned out to be a really nice afternoon for them, and it made the errands that much more enjoyable.

Lo and behold I'm single, but I needed to run some errands and had the afternoon free.  I decided I was going to make it an enjoyable experience and not rush myself as I usually do.  
Before even starting anything I stopped and got a strawberry smoothie.  The weather was warmer that usual today in Santiago, and it put me in a good mood to get started with the errands.   After going to get the details to mail a package, I then went to the bus station to check out prices on tickets for a trip I was planning.  On my way there, I found the packing materials I needed for my package, and then I decided to walk to my next errand instead of catching the bus or subway.  As I walked along, I stopped in some shops looking at bags that I could use to get back to the gym.

As I took the bus home, I decided I wanted to give myself a spontaneous treat.  I called up a Peruvian restaurant near my apartment that prepares meals for pickup, but they weren't open that day.  I then remembered that a former student of mine told me about another Peruvian restaurant near my apartment, so I decided to check it out.  6:30 is early for dinner in Chile and it was empty, but the food and service was great.  I left with a full stomach.

Aji de gallina, my favorite Peruvian dish.
It's chicken in a yellow pepper sauce.
As I walked back to my apartment, I passed by a small music school.  In high school and college I played the bass, and they advertised that they offered lessons.  I went inside to check it out.  They didn't have any basses to rent, but they suggested a business not too far away that probably did.  I explained how I used to play, but I was concerned with storing a bass in my one bedroom apartment when I came to a realization.  I had always wanted to pick up the viola, and it looks like this is the perfect opportunity for me.  The price for classes fits into my budget, and now I'm just waiting to see if the professor and my schedule coincide for classes.

Since then I've also gotten back to the gym.  I've gained about 20 kilos in the past few years, and I've finally prepared myself mentally to start the adventure of getting back in shape.  The gym is high tech (Each piece of equipment has a button which you can press, and there are trainers wearing smart watches.  When you press the button, it signals for them to go to you and help you with whatever you need.) and has an upscale feel to it, and I really like it.  On my first visit I was given a routine, and it's easy to follow.  Next month they will review it with me and give me a new one.

In past experiences at the gym, I became turned off by it not being open at the hours it was supposed to, rude and incompetent staff, and other factors.  Rather than approaching my return to the gym on the lookout for things to go wrong, I'm telling myself that it's going to be a positive experience and remind myself of the excellent personal trainer I had back in California and how I was able to manage a gym routine and how I was in great shape then.

I've been to the gym twice since I joined 3 days ago.  In the words of Linkin Park from the song Waiting for the End, "The hardest part of ending is starting again."

Friday, August 19, 2016

A long overdue update

I've had a long absence from my blog.

It would be easy to make up excuses or avoid the elephant in the room of what has been happening, but I don't think that's the best thing to do.

I've been struggling with depression.

Talking about it isn't easy, as it's a personal struggle.  Opening up to people is hard for me and leaves me vulnerable and open to judgement and criticism from others. 

Before you read any further, form any opinions about me, or have a a desire to offer any advice, I'm going to provide a list of statements that aren't helpful:

1. "You just have to snap out of it." (usually said with a tone of condescension)
2. "It's all in your head." (How is that supposed to make a person feel better?)
3. "Well, my situation was worse........" (One upping doesn't make a person dealing with a rough time feel any better.)
4. "You should...." (I didn't ask for advice.  I'm trying to open up and would really appreciate you listening and acknowledging my reality.)

A few days ago, I came across a post on Facebook that really resonated with me.  It's the story of a woman who wanted to prepare her daughter for middle school.
“I gave her a tube of toothpaste and asked her to squirt it out onto a plate. When she finished, I calmly asked her to put all the toothpaste back in the tube,” Gardner explains. Of course, her daughter looked at her like it was an impossible task, because it is. Her daughter began to say things like But I can’t! and It won’t be like before!
That’s when mom dropped some serious knowledge, with some words her daughter will probably never forget:

“You will remember this plate of toothpaste for the rest of your life. Your words have the power of life or death. As you go into middle school, you are about to see just how much weight your words carry. You are going to have the opportunity to use your words to hurt, demean, slander and wound others. You are also going to have the opportunity to use your words to heal, encourage, inspire and love others. You will occasionally make the wrong choice; I can think of three times this week I have used my own words carelessly and caused harm. Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can’t take them back.”
Some of the things I've heard from people close to me in the past year have really affected me.  Hurtful comments and hard to stomach truths have shattered my self esteem and self worth into a million little pieces, and I've been working to pick up them up one by one and glue them back together again.  I had fallen into a pattern of eating comfort food, sleeping, and watching TV to help deal with the pain.  While some people escape their reality through drugs and alcohol, for me it is through food and television.

Despite these challenges, I feel like I'm in the best place I could be given the circumstances.  I have a wonderful group of friends here that I know I can depend on for anything. My students are wonderful and easygoing, and if I'm not feeling well we either cancel the class or reschedule it.  With my health insurance I've been able to get affordable treatment with antidepressants and therapy to work through these challenges.  All in all I find the expat community here is so wonderful; we have the common bond of deciding to leave our home countries in search for something else, and we understand the struggles that we go through and appreciate living a lifestyle outside of the mainstream.

Getting that out of the way, here are the highlights month by month since my last update.

February 

I made my last payment for my student loans from getting my Masters degree.  It is such a good feeling being debt free and finally being able to start focusing on saving for my future.  I managed to get $42,000 in loans paid off in 10 years, and it's a sense of accomplishment that not many understand unless you're in the same position.

Regarding travelling, I got Global Entry and TSA Precheck.  This allows me to bypass the long security lines at airports in the United States, and I can also go through an expedited line when entering the United States at most airports.  It's good for 5 years, and it will certainly take out one of the hassles of travel.

I also took a vacation to Universal Studios in Orlando with my dad.  He and my mom have been my rock and support no matter what.  He worked two full time jobs when I was growing up to make ends meet, and his hard work ethic is something that has always been with me because of him.  I'm finally in a position that I can start giving back to him, so for his birthday I bought his ticket to Universal Studios.  I hadn't been there in almost 20 years, so it was a great experience.  I think my favorite part was exploring the Springfield area of the park complete with Krusty Burger and Moe's Tavern.  My dad enjoyed the Harry Potter area, and it was cool seeing kids getting so excited about something and using their magic wands to activate things in the park.  It turns out a friend from high school was there with her husband and daughter, and we were able to catch up for a bit.





A Krusty Burger with fries


March

March is always a month of new beginnings in Chile.  Summer is coming to an end, and kids go back to school.  People return from their vacation and begin to settle into their work routine again.

For me, the new beginning meant taking a critical look at my living space.  Since I've lived in the same apartment for 5 years now, it has been easy to just keep things the way they have been.  I'd been holding onto things I'm not really using more out of laziness than anything else, but I decided it was time for a change.

I got rid of a dresser that I was only half using as well as my bulky propane heater in favor of an energy efficient tower heater.  I also upgraded my old bed that I had had for 5 years for a new one that opens up and has storage inside, which has been great for organizing my living space. 

Last but not least, I got a desk and a computer chair!  It's so nice to have a space to sit to do work (that isn't my kitchen table) as well as put my office materials away and keep them organized.

April

There were some really strong rainstorms, some meetings with friends to play Apples to Apples and Setters of Catan, and a weekend trip to Viña to have a change of scenery.

Little did I know what would transpire during that weekend in Viña.

At breakfast on that Saturday morning I got to talking to two guys from Liverpool.  They told me that they were going to Santiago the next day for the day, and it turns out they were going to the Coldplay concert.  After a bit of conversation, one of them told me that they had an extra ticket since his girlfriend was pregnant and unable to fly, and he offered it to me!  

So Sunday I helped the two of them get a bus ticket back to Santiago with me, and they left their bags at my place while they hiked up Cerro San Cristobal.  Once they got back we got some Peruvian food and then walked to the concert.  It was at the National Stadium, just about 4 blocks from my apartment.

The concert was really cool.  The special effects and visuals were all really well thought out and nicely planned.  At one point of the concert, they moved to a mini stage about 20 feet away from where we were standing.  It was awesome to get to see them up close.






We had to leave before the concert was over, because James and Paul were then catching an overnight bus to Pucón that same night.  We said our goodbyes and have been connected on Facebook ever since, and it will just be a matter of time before we get to meet up again.

May

A friend of mine lost her husband to cancer in May.  Although I never met him, I knew that he was a great person from what Kari told me about him.  This left me thinking about life and to be grateful for each and every day that I have.

I also came to the realization that some activities that I had been involved in weren't contributing to my happiness.  After giving them a sincere effort I felt like I had to at least take a break for a while and focus on me.

June 

The weather started getting colder as winter made its appearance, and I became a member of a business networking alliance in Santiago.  We started meeting once a month with the same group of people with the goal of helping each other grow and expand our businesses.  It is unique in that there is only one person from any given sector, and I have met some very interesting people.

Some of my friends from back in Jersey were in Peru, and we were able to meet up in Lima.  It was so great connecting with people from back home and getting to show them around a bit.  Even though we only got to spend an afternoon together, it was so refreshing to get to spend time with other people that enjoy traveling as much as I do.  I also enjoyed the food as well as the cat park.







July

July is the middle of winter in Chile, but it really wasn't that cold.  Some of my students were on vacation, which gave me more free time than I usually have.  I told myself that I was going to use that time to be productive and get my living space organized, but I wasn't really too successful.

The IATEFL Conference took place in Santiago, and it was great.  There were some really amazing presenters, and they always get me thinking about my teaching.  I caught up with other teachers I hadn't seen since last year in Concepción, and I also gave a presentation.  While I enjoy the conference each year, this year I found myself only being able to take in so much information before feeling worn out and overwhelmed.



At the end of July I made a weekend trip down to Concepción to catch up with some friends.  While I didn't get to see everyone I had hoped to, it was nice getting out of Santiago and doing something different.

August

This month I started teaching classes via Skype.  One of my students wanted to continue classes after leaving Santiago and moving to London, and it was flattering that she wanted to continue specifically with me.  Teaching online classes is quite different than teaching in person, but I'm adjusting to the change.

My health has suffered a bit with the smog, and I had a nasty cough and sore throat for a little over a week.  I've also been dealing with some back pain, but luckily I've found a great chiropractor that speaks English.

There was a nice event in Ñuñoa last weekend.  They organized a food truck event in Plaza Ñuñoa, and it was great.  There were food trucks with burgers and fries, kebabs, schwarmas, baked goods, crepes, and more.  There was music playing, face painting, and a light, festive atmosphere.  The weather was unseasonably warm the day I went, and I had a good time catching up with friends.

I've made strides in choosing my friendships carefully, and I'm getting better of listening to my intuition.  I've started mapping out my professional and personal goals for the next few years, and it has helped me to see the steps I need to take to reach them.  I have my work cut out for me, but I'm feeling positive about what the rest of this year holds.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Christmas, Adventures in Cat Sitting, and New Years

Happy 2016 everyone!!!

The weather was hot down in Chile for Christmas and New Years.  This year I decided I wanted to spend Christmas at the beach, so I went to Viña del Mar.  I arrived on the 23rd in the late afternoon and stayed at my usual hostel.  It was relaxing enjoying nice meals at restaurants, talking with other travelers over breakfast at the hostel, and seeing the people who work there again.  

The best part, however, was Christmas Eve dinner.  The hostel organized a dinner since everything is closed on the night of Christmas Eve.  There was steak, chicken, salmon, salad, dessert, and drinks.  There were people from Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Lithuania.  Having a sense of community and meeting such an interesting group of people was a really nice way to spend the night.





Some restaurants were closed on Christmas, and when dinnertime rolled around I was getting hungry.  I found out that Papa John's was open, and I got to introduce one of the travelers to the wonder that is Papa John's.  We had an interesting conversation about our backgrounds, traveling, and life around different parts of the world.

Upon my return to Santiago on the 26th, I was given a unique opportunity.  Some of my friends were going away on vacation, and they asked me to take care of their cats.  I was so excited leading up to it and really enjoyed it.  They asked me to sleep over each night, and they had food in the fridge and showed me how to use their Netflix account.  I enjoyed watching Friends, making sandwiches, and playing with Tommy and Tigresa.  

So what are the cats like? They are both a lot of fun.  Tommy doesn't drink water from a bowl like normal cats.  Instead he drinks from the tap.  Tigresa eventually decided she wanted to be like her older brother, but when she tried to copy Tommy when he was drinking from the tap he lashed out at her.  She then went into the bathtub and was meowing at me to turn on the faucet for her to drink from that faucet.  I could only imagine what would have happened, so I didn't.  Tommy also likes jumping into a red cooler and being taken around the house like he's in a plane, so that became a daily activity.  Besides drinking from the tap and the cooler plane rides, Tommy was pretty laid back most of the time and just did his own thing.




Tigresa has a lot more energy.  She played with my sandals, meowed to be petted, and enjoyed playing with a cardboard box as well as a mouse on a string.  When I worked on my laptop while watching Friends she mostly left me alone, but the last night she started sitting down on my teaching materials, meowing at me insistently, and trying to walk on my laptop while I worked.  I think she was getting comfortable with me.  It didn't bother me at all; she just wanted attention and the work that I was doing wasn't pressing.




While I enjoyed my time in Viña and cat sitting, I was glad to get back to my apartment.  I hadn't slept in my own bed in a week, and I needed to do some cleaning and get food in.  I decided to stay in for New Years and enjoy some video games and reflecting over the past year.

It was a year with challenges, changes, and accomplishments.  Leaving a job, paying off one of my big student loans, becoming more assertive in my professional and personal life, and realizing that I am capable of being my own boss were some of the memorable events of 2015.  My hard work and persistence has paid off, and I've had to ignore the naysayers that told me that I should move back to the States.  But with time those naysayers are becoming fewer and fewer.  Having been able to live in another country for over 5 years is an accomplishment that I sometimes forget about.  It's easy for me to write off things that I do well and compare myself to others, or I look at areas of my life that aren't the way I want them and focus on what is missing or what I should be doing better.

2016 is going to be a year of further development.  It's going to be a year of developing my communication and leadership skills via Toastmasters, creating a savings/investment plan, and visiting friends that I haven't seen in a while.  Life might throw me some curveballs this year, but I have learned that I am stronger than I thought and am capable of handling whatever comes my way.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Facebook, Podcasts, and Realizations

Life in Santiago has been pretty routine the past few months, hence the lack of updates.

I've been thinking about a lot of things lately, and this post is going to be quite a bit deeper than my typical posts.

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

What do I love about it?  I love being connected with friends and seeing their good news.  I can't always be there for milestones like engagements, birthdays, weddings, and the birth of their children.  It's obviously not the same as being there, but I love seeing pictures and  the feeling that I still have a connection to them.

I also love the instant communication.  I can have a quick chat with a friend I've been out of touch with.  I can plan an event and update guests virtually and share news and photos.  I can buy and sell things with a wider audience than if I didn't have Facebook, and I can also get advice and recommendations about restaurants and services.  People also post news about protests and happenings, which is handy when I'm traveling around the city.  They have even added a feature to mark yourself safe when a natural disaster happens.  When the earthquake happened in September, I was able to mark myself as safe so that my Facebook friends knew that I was ok.

What do I hate about it?  Well, the way some people choose to use Facebook.

Before I continue, I have to admit that I am far from perfect.  I look back at posts I made 3 and 4 years ago and realize the pointlessness of my previous posts or my desire for attention.

Some people give a play by play of an event that they are at.  Sometimes it includes pictures of every course of their meal or every picture of their vacation updated by the hour.  Don't get me wrong; it's great seeing some photos of a friend's vacation posted after the fact.  I'm happy for people that are having a great time.  It seems, however, that some people just want to show off how great of a life they have.  And Facebook is the perfect platform to do that.

Other people post about how much fun they had at an event or how much they miss a person, but they do it on their timeline.  There's nothing wrong with sharing this information, but is it necessary to do so in a public way to show off your friendship?  Sometimes it continues on with a string of replies back and forth about some type of inside joke or making plans for the next social event.  Maybe it's just me, but I find it annoying and unnecessary.  There's Facebook messenger, email, Whatsapp, and phone calls that can communicate the same thing in a non public way.

Sometimes you find out that you are excluded from an event or that someone has lied to you via Facebook.  Being on the inside of a social event is great, but being on the outside when you thought you were going to be included is a very isolating feeling.  People saying they are sick and can't meet with you but then post publicly to make plans with other people for the same exact time have also left be with a feeling of loneliness and rejection.  You could either be honest about things or at least be more discreet if you're going to lie or exclude a person.

Another thing that really gets to me is political posts.  There's nothing wrong with posting a news story if you're interested in having a civil political debate or that shows a point of view that you hadn't considered before.  Unfortunately I see people that post things with blatant misinformation or that seem to play on people's fears rather than using facts and statistics.  Why would you want to share something like that?  How is it helpful trying to engage people with different political views if you're not willing to have a civil discussion about things?

Then there are posts that are offensive and people that don't even try to understand another point of view.  I don't know about anyone else, but I find Conan O'Brien's "I ate all your Halloween candy" skit that he shows each year a disgrace.  For those that aren't familiar with it, a parent videotapes themselves telling their son or daughter that he/she ate all of their Halloween candy.  The child then throws a tantrum or bursts out crying.  This is intended to be a joke, and parents are encouraged to send in their videos each year to be shown on national TV.

Why in the world do people think that it's acceptable to manipulate a child's feelings in order to get a laugh?  Do people really value being on national TV more than their children's mental health?  This does not seem like a good way to cultivate a bond of trust and happiness between parents and children.  

Last but not least, there are posts that make fun of others.  Inside jokes and poking fun of friends is one thing, but making fun of people you don't know doesn't seem like a very productive or happy thing to do.  Do you really not have anything better to do than make fun of other people?  This also applies to posts that make fun of politicians, usually ones that have differing viewpoints than the person who's posting.

All in all, I have such mixed feelings.  I love being in touch with people, but you can only see so many posts that a single person makes about their amazing life, awesome vacation, or strong political views with no desire to discuss them.  I have found the unfriend and unfollow button very useful, and I'm also trying to spend less time on Facebook.  All in all, I think it hasn't been contributing to my happiness.

Given all that, how do I think Facebook should be used?

In my opinion, Facebook should be about bringing people together, making our lives easier, and helping contribute to happiness.  How can this be done?  

1. Share photos and personal news that is relevant and interesting.  If it's meant to incite jealousy or show off, don't post it.
2. Share helpful and interesting news.  Is there a road closure in your area?  Is there new research about a cure for cancer?  Did you find a new shop that might interest a friend?  Are there some kitchen hacks that will make cooking easier?  If so, share!
3. Help brighten people's day.  Share a funny story, joke, or video.  My personal favorite is the Suprised Kitty video that went viral on Youtube.  I have quite a few friends that are cat lovers, so any videos or stories that I find relevant I share with them.
4. Make fun of yourself.  A friend of mine jokingly told me that he hated me because of the travelling I had done.  A few weeks later I went to the ER with a badly sprained ankle.  I ended up wearing a boot for 2 weeks.  I posted a picture of my leg on his timeline with the comment, "So do you hate me now?"  It's something that he and I will always remember, and it was a good way to help diffuse his "hatred".
5. Find groups of people that share a common interest with you, and connect with them.  Not just through a screen, but by actually going out and meeting people in person.  I've made some great friends this way, and the in person connection is a way to help build community.

Will I ever give up Facebook?  I doubt it.  I do know one thing though.  Facebook has helped me to become more humble.  I share what is necessary.  I don't (or at least try not to) flaunt my success or staunchly post about my political views unless I'm willing to entertain a civil discussion about it.  I don't need to make a post about how blessed I am at Thanksgiving, and I don't need to change my profile picture to the colors of a country's flag in order to support them.  I do what I can to help others (even if I don't post an update or a video of it on my timeline), and I work to maintain my connections to people while connecting with others that will bring happiness into my life.

Another thing that technology has brought us is podcasts.  For those that aren't familiar with them, it is like a radio show that is on the internet that you can listen to at any time after it is published.  There are podcasts about almost everything in any language.  I've started listening to some that I find really interesting and helpful.

The first one is Nation Public Radio Planet Money.  It's about what's happening in the real world regarding economics, but it is geared towards people that don't have a degree in economics or finance.  They have such interesting stories, and they make for great conversation with people.

Another one is called The Tim Ferriss Show.  He's the author of The Four Hour Workweek and interviews guests that have been successful.  He also shares his habits and routines that help him to be successful.  It's interesting hearing from people about what they do and don't do, and it has opened my eyes to things that I can start doing differently in my life.  I particularly enjoyed the interview with Mike Shinoda from my favorite band, Linkin Park.

I also enjoy listening to Happier, a podcast by Gretchen Rubin.  She's the author of The Happiness Project, and she studies happiness and the development of good habits.  Each week she and her sister tackle an issue in an interesting way.  They share their experiences and ask the audience to share their experiences, and it's so interesting to hear that others go through the same challenges that I do.  They also talk about how other people see the world differently, which really helps to understand other people and how to live harmoniously.  They had a podcast about getting fired, and I wrote to share my experience having gone through it.  It was an incredibly hard time of my life, but a lot of positive came out of it, ultimately convincing me to make the move to Chile.

The last big one is called The Voluntary Life.  It's all about finding freedom and financial freedom.  It includes ideas about investing, saving money, living a minimalist lifestyle, and various paths to financial freedom.   This has been particularly helpful for me.

Over this year I have doubted my lifestyle of living in Santiago, having a cheap one bedroom apartment, and being my own boss.  I can make enough money to live, pay off my student loans, and put money into savings.  I don't have (and don't want) a car, because it's not necessary.  I'd like a larger apartment, but it's also not necessary.  I don't really buy many material possessions, but I do enjoy spending my money to eat out from time to time and travel.  People tell me I'm throwing money away by renting and they suggest I move back to the States and "get a real job".  Apparently there's something wrong with my lifestyle if I get such strong objections from people about it.  Or so I thought.

After listening to The Voluntary Life, I came to realize there's nothing wrong with my lifestyle.  I've chosen a lifestyle that doesn't include consumerism (with the exception of eating out and some things I enjoy like video games) and the accumulation of material goods.  I have chosen to be my own boss and manage my free time and workload.  I value experiences and travel, and that is how I choose to spend my money for the most part.  By living below my means and not buying a larger apartment or house that I would then have to spend a lot of money on to furnish and maintain, I prefer to save my money and use public transportation.  When I'm back in the States, I can rent a car if necessary.  I don't need to stay in fancy hotels when I travel; hostels or a room via couchsurfers work just fine.  When others voice their objections to my lifestyle I no longer have to justify it; their comments are a reflection of their own insecurities regarding their lifestyle choices.

I've become more cognizant of how I spend money as well as the possessions that I have.  I have started downsizing my selling or giving away things I'm no longer using, and it's a good feeling.  I've also started going through the vast amounts of paper that I have any getting rid of anything I don't need.  I've done the same with my email inbox.  I now have everything organized by category, have unsubscribed myself to lists, and deal with emails within 48 hours of receiving them.

I have 2 major goals for next year:

1. Be as paperless as possible.
There's an app called Evernote which allows you to take pictures of business cards, receipts, contracts, and other important documents that are then stored securely.  I already use Dropbox for my teaching materials, but being able to get rid of more paper will be a really good feeling.

2. Pay off my last student loan and set up an investment plan.
I got my unsubsidized loan paid off earlier this year, and it was a great feeling.  I have one more to pay off, and then from there I can start focusing on investing for my future.  I know I'm late to the game compared to most people, and I've endured harsh criticism for it.  While enduring that criticism, however, I've been busy crafting a lifestyle that works for me and that allows me to save a significant portion of my income each month.

I hope everyone is staying warm or cool (depending on where you're reading this from and what the weather is like there), and I hope you have a wonderful holiday and end of the year!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fiestas Patrias, Personal and Professional Growth, and When Clowns Attack

As I type this, I find it hard to believe how quickly the year is going by.

The weather has been unseasonably cold, and we have been getting rain beyond when the rainy season is supposed to be.  I've had a few days when I've been able to see my breath on my way to work in the morning.  Hopefully spring will be on its way soon.

Fiestas patrias this year was pretty low key.  I met with a friend and one of his friends, and we made food in his apartment.  It was nice having a small gathering, and they showed me how easy it is to make hummus.

The following day I went to a fonda with some friends.  We went to the one at Parque Padre Hurtado.  It was crowded and had the typical meat, bread, and terremotos along with various displays about Chile's naval and air force.  There were games for kids, and they had bumper balls!


Elana and I decided to get in touch with our inner child.  Inside the ball I woke up a sweat, and it wore me out even though I was only inside for about 5 minutes.  Being heavier worked to my advantage, as I was able to knock people over easily and was only knocked over once.  I tried to be gentle with the little kids, but even when I tried to bump them lightly they went flying (or rolling I should say).  A friend took a video of the experience, but apparently the file is too big to post on here. You can see it on Youtube by clicking here



One of the benefits of being my own boss is that I have control over my schedule and free time.  I haven't been very good about making good use of my free time, and for me it's easy to fall into the pattern of watching TV and spending too much time on Facebook.  I feel like I haven't been nurturing my mind to contribute to my personal and professional growth, but I've started making progress in a few ways.

First of all, I found a free online course offered by the British Council about taking the IELTS.  For those non-English teachers, the IELTS is an international tests that non-native speakers of English take in order to study or live in the UK or Australia.  I've been participating in the course for the past 4 weeks.  The videos and links that they provide are very useful, and it's interesting seeing other people's comments regarding the test.  On the website I've also found a few other online courses that I'm considering taking in November.

I'm also meditating on an almost daily basis.  It leaves me feeling more relaxed and calm, and I'm more prepared to tackle what I need to do any given day while feeling less anxious.

In addition, I've found a few podcasts that I enjoy listening to.  The first one is The Happier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin.  It's really interesting hearing about a different topic each week and what people do in other to develop habits that make them happier and healthier.  Another one is Freakonomics.  It was suggested by a friend, and it looks at interesting economic concepts related to current events.  The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is also very interesting.  He's always trying something new, and it's interesting to see what he's done in his life to become so successful and happy.  

Taking in all this new knowledge and information is great, but at the same time it leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed.  There are suggestions of new habits to try, new books to read, and articles that are worth checking out.  There are also a lot of interesting people here in Santiago that I could meet with in order to network and develop personally and professionally.  But where do I start?  Sometimes I feel a bit paralyzed and find it hard to start at all, but I'm trying to be patient with myself.  Between that and meditating I'm taking small steps to try new things and become the best version of myself personally and professionally.

Living in Santiago wouldn't be complete with some type of completely random event happening every once in a while.  So what happened this time?

I was attacked by a clown.

Yes, you read that right.  So, how did it all happen?

I was riding the bus home from my morning class, and a man dressed up as a clown got on the bus.  He had on a wig, a clown costume, and his face was painted white.  This isn't uncommon in Santiago, as entertainers in the form of instrumentalists, singers, and clowns will get on the bus and provide some entertainment.  In exchange they then ask for a small donation and walk around the bus accepting what is offered and thanking the passengers.  The clowns usually put on some type of comedy show.  If they are in pairs, they provide some quick-witted banter back and forth which usually gets anyone listening laughing.  If they are alone, they might make jokes or tease people.  They tend to try to get people that aren't paying attention to them to laugh or respond.

This clown was different, however.  He was seated on the other side of the aisle and spoke to me, and I ignored him and continued checking my emails on my phone.  Then he actually kicked my foot lightly and spoke to me again, but I continued to ignore him.  I thought it was strange that he wasn't trying to entertain people, but at that time I didn't think much of it.

Eventually he changed his seat to sit behind me, and then he moved back to his original seat.  A woman sat down next to me when we got to the next stop.  About a minute later, the clown started speaking loudly and stood up.  The woman fled from her seat, and he came closer to me.  He then stuck me on the head, and my glasses flew to the ground.

He was screaming at me, and I realized that he had been asking for money the entire time.  I'm not normally one to ignore someone that asks for help, but there was something strange about him from the beginning.  I shielded myself with my bookbag for about another minute while I called out for someone to help me.  We came to a bus stop, and he got off the bus.  As we were at the bus stop, he banged on the glass from the outside and continued to yell at me.

My hands were shaking, and I managed to pick up my glasses off the ground.  Luckily they weren't damaged.  A man came over to me and asked if I was ok.  I told him that I was fine, just a bit shook up.

I was fortunate that it hadn't been any worse.  The Chileans that I've spoken to say that it was a very strange situation and that they had never experienced nor heard of anything like it before.  I feel like I stood out because of my lighter skin, and he probably thought I was rich and would give him money.  The incident served as a reminder that I need to keep my guard up, even when I'm out and about during the day.

And now you can add me to the group of people that has a slight fear of clowns.