It’s that wonderful time of the year when future trainees leaving for Peace Corps Paraguay in May start packing and getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime! Concurrently, I can’t believe that I have been in the Peace Corps for almost a year now. My very own Sister G, G-39, will be arriving soon!
This post is dedicated to my incoming Sister G in the Community Economic Development Sector (though this can also apply to any other Volunteer in Paraguay, or wold-wide).
To my incoming Sister G- I’d like to welcome you to Peace Corps Paraguay! I’m biased, but I really believe that we have the best sector in Paraguay. Our Associate Peace Corps Director (one of our bosses) Elisa, and our Program Specialist (our other boss) Giancarlo are both incredible. They are wonderful, funny, give great site placements, and I know you will all love them. Additionally, my own G, G-36, is already very excited to have you here working with us. We’re a tight-knit sector, and we can’t wait to meet you.
Based on my own experiences in Peace Corps Paraguay, I decided to write a post on packing tips- things I wish Volunteers told me about before coming here. These packing tips are not exhaustive (for example, I’m not going to tell you to bring ‘x amount of pants’)- they are mostly tips that I wish I had known about before joining the Peace Corps in Paraguay. Some of this advice is tailored to CED Volunteers, though it can be applicable to any Volunteer. I hope it is helpful and informative. Here we go!
I’ve had my fair share of bargaining experiences, having traveled to many different areas of the world. In India, getting into an angry haggling war while pretending you know the real price is very common. In China, you can be extremely aggressive with your bargaining, asking for up to 10 times lower than the asking price (walk away and you’re golden). In Kenya, you have to ask in a much softer, nicer manner to get people to lower their cost to a reasonable price.
In Paraguay, the bargaining tactic is knowing someone who bought the same thing for much cheaper. Merely mentioning it gets you a much more economical price.
A few examples: I’m getting screen doors made for my house to ward off all kinds of insects and dengue-carrying mosquitos. When I previously talked to some friends and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who live in a totally different area of the country (and much more rural, hence cheaper prices), they told me a carpenter agreed to make them screen doors for 50 mil each (about 13 dollars). When I asked the carpenter here for a price, he told me it was 170 mil for each door. Startled at the price, I off-handedly mentioned that my friends in San Pedro were having their doors made for 50 mil- and without skipping a beat, the carpenter said ‘Oh okay no problem, I can make the doors for 50 mil too.’
On a different adventure, I went in search for the cheapest refrigerator I could find today, as I need one for my house. Fridges here are very expensive for our Peace Corps salaries, but after hearing horror stories about Volunteers buying used fridges only for them to stop working, us volunteers in the Caazapá area decided that buying a new fridge would be the best tactic. Following advice from a volunteer, I heard that a certain store sold a fridge to her for a super low price, so I walked in and announced that my friend (describing all of her characteristics and name) had bought her fridge for 1.5 millon (about $375) rather than the regular price of 2.3 millon. I had them down to 1.6 millon before calling her and realizing that I had walked into the wrong store. They didn’t even know my friend, but they generously lowered the price for me anyway.
This mode of bargaining works much better than just asking for a discount. When I went into another store previously and asked for a discount on a fridge, I was only given a measly 50 mil off of it. Paraguayans don’t seem to respond to bargaining in the same way that other countries do: they are more interested in matching the price of other stores or friends who paid less for the same thing. I’m not sure how well this tactic works on everything, but it’s interesting how different cultures bargain in different ways.
Note: I didn’t write this post intended to rip off Paraguayans- everyone is trying to make a living, and I believe that people should pay a fair price that makes both the owner and the seller happy. However, since everyone can tell immediately from my Spanish accent (and looks) that I’m not Paraguayan, it’s easy to sometimes put a special ‘foreigner price’ on things. This is when I believe bargaining tactics come in handy, not just to get the right price, but to show that not all foreigners are extremely rich- especially when in reality Peace Corps Volunteers make less than the minimum wage than normal Paraguayans make.
Filed under: Travel Tip
One of the most crucial traveling adages is the always-important ‘travel light.’ Many of the things you think you need (extra batteries, most toiletry products, eons of clothes, etc.) you can easily find in another country. You’ll most likely pick up cool stuff along the way, so it’s always better to have a pack that has extra space.
I have a different travel adage- ‘travel light- and prepared’. If you’re traveling and staying in one place for a longer period of time (a month or more in one place), a new conundrum raises when packing: how am I going to make this new and disorientating place feel comfortable and familiar? Settling into a new place is hard, and poses a different challenge than constantly traveling. I’ve done such an exercise countless times now- India, Taiwan, Thailand, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Kenya- each place I’ve stayed in for a few months. From my experience, each place needs a period of ‘settling in’ to counter culture shock- and we’re talking immediate settling in. I’ve found that if I start experiencing culture shock and I’m not in a comfortable space, it’s just a downhard spiral to hell. Helping smooth culture shock can include really simple things, like unpacking all of your stuff, buying groceries, and re-arranging furniture.
As time has gone on, I’ve found what’s really helped me personally are pictures. Pictures of family, friends, and places I’ve traveled to. Pictures are small and don’t take up a lot of space in my bag. I can spread them out all over my room and make it feel like it’s mine. A candle or two also really helps with the ambience. I also have a thing for prayer beads, and cards from friends. Sometimes you just need a couple of small and nice decorations to make you feel more at home. The same goes for toiletries- I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s nothing like having a pumice stone, foot cream, and nail polish if you’re out trekking all day in the heat, or if you’re feeling lonely and frustrated. Sometimes giving yourself a ‘luxurious foot spa’ is all it takes for a refreshing outlook. Even if these things are frivolous and take up a little bag space, I find them really essential for helping me get through the frustrating times.
So with that being said, I just invested in a couple of posters to bring along with me to the Peace Corps. Posters are customizable and they do an amazing job of making me feel like I’m at home. Posters are also great because they weigh absolutely nothing and I can fold them up to line on the bottom of my suitcase- virtually no space- but they take up a lot of space on a wall. So rather than staring at probably unpleasant cement walls at my site, I’ll have something refreshing to look at!
Poster One. Something calming that reminds me of Asia. One of those things to look at right when you come into the space.
Poster Two. A Map of the World. This is actually huge in life size, which I’m really excited about! I’m actually planning on using this one as a project that will probably take up an entire wall of my room.
Poster Three. Something pretty to look at. Maybe next to a designated ‘reading spot.’
Poster Four. More artistic. For some reason it reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami (probably because he’s Japanese). This is one of those ‘bathroom’ pieces, you know what I’m saying? A bit more intense.
Along with the pictures and other little keepsakes I’m bringing, I’d say that I’m pretty set for a rocking space in Paraguay!
Filed under: Travel Tip
I have FINALLY started packing for Africa! I was having some sort of block about it this past week, and I kept putting it off. But last night I finally spent a good four hours sorting through all of my old travel gear and picking out clothes, and now I’m in the middle of a long list of things to do before I leave for San Francisco in three days (I start training for Kiva there).
The only problem is, I’ve come across a major road block in my packing, which is a HUGE dilemma in the world of traveling: should I bring a backpack or a suitcase?
I’ve traveled with my trusty Eagle Creek backpack since the start of my travels. It’s a colossal 90L backpack (which is the largest they get)- I naively bought this when I first started traveling because I had no idea how to really travel at the time (I also brought twice the amount of things that I needed, like batteries and power bars and all of these random things- I ended up sending most of it home after 2 weeks in India. But the upside to that is, I’ve always been able to restock on the next trips rather than going out and buying stuff again!) It’s actually worked really nicely for me the past two years- fits all of my schoolbooks, my med and toiletry kit, my clothes, and all of the random little things I picked up from traveling.
But here’s the thing: this trip to Africa is different from my previous ones. First off, I’m actually going to be working this trip, and that means that I need to bring some nice, formal clothes (not only is this the culture in Kenya, but I also want to look professional). However, I’m planning on traveling for two weeks before I go to Kenya, and then a month afterwards. This means staying in cheap hostels (or Couch Surfing), a lot of bus rides, and just general traveling. So this means that, for this trip, I need to bring double the clothes; nice clothes that I can wear to work, and then travel clothes. And since clothes take up the breadth of my packing, this means that I will be literally stuffing my backpack to the brim, which I don’t like to do. It will also mean crinkly work clothes, which I also don’t want to do; and most importantly, it will mean that I’ll OVERPACK the 90L bag, making it impossibly heavy and difficult to walk for long periods of time in, which renders it as a ‘walking backpack’ kind of useless.
Moreover, there are some downsides to the traveler’s backpack. It’s a huge nuisance checking it in on flights- every time it comes through the conveyor belt, something has snapped, or a buckle has broken off- it gets dirty pretty easily, all of my things get kind of jumbled up inside, and because it is 90L, it can get pretty heavy.
So this brings me to the suitcase. The suitcase is larger and it rolls, which is great. It will nicely pack all of my things, and they’ll be more protective and less likely to get, for better lack of a word, disgusting. No matter how heavy the suitcase is, I’ll still be able to roll it along. And I’ll feel significantly safer stowing my computer/camera in there than I would my backpack.
The potential issues/cons to the suitcase is that I’m afraid I’d be more susceptible to mugging, since I will probably look like a more upscale traveler- and that it could be a complete nuisance to get around (though it’s hard to tell because I’ve never been to Africa). A suitcase would be better, hands down, if I was merely staying in Nairobi for three months. The issue is AFTERWARDS, where I’ll be traveling all over the place, hopping on buses or trains and looking for hostels, where I’m afraid that a suitcase will prove to be very cumbersome.
Another suitcase vs. backpack dilemma is the psychological factor. With a suitcase, I’m afraid that it will take away more of the ‘travel’ feeling for me. With my backpack, I always feel young and daring and on top of the world- that I have everything in one backpack, and that’s all I need in this life- that I can take my stuff and just spontaneously wander anywhere, totally carefree. I think the suitcase kind of takes away that aspect- it makes me feel less mobile, like I need to plan everything out before I do it.
Alternatively, transitioning to a suitcase makes me feel a bit more like ‘growing up’- like a more mature traveler, that has more of a purpose to traveling- I’m not going to Africa just to hang out and take in the sights- I’m going there to work in a field that I’m passionate about and that I want to be taken seriously in.
So now that I’ve fully explained this debacle- should I go for a backpack or a suitcase this time around? Help me out and leave me some comments guys!
Filed under: Travel Tip
Rosetta Stone is a language learning software program, with 31 languages to learn from your picking and choosing. Many of you may have seen Rosetta Stone on TV ads, or perhaps one of those ‘customer representatives’ threw themselves in front of you while you were in a rush at the airport, trying to shove a Rosetta box into your hands while hawking about how you can ‘learn Spanish fluently!’
Rosetta Stone is one of the most famous language learning programs out there, and it covers many of the most widely used languages in the world, including Mandarin, English, Spanish, French, Russian, Italian, Hindi, German, etc. The way that Rosetta Stone teaches you is ‘total immersion’- which means there is no translation, but rather an interactive ‘game’ where, with the lessons taught, you eventually learn how to communicate in the language desired.
A lot of people question whether Rosetta Stone is truly an effective language learning tool, or whether they are able to learn the language ‘fluently.’ Is this a great travel resource, and worth the price?
Let me start by saying that I have used Rosetta Stone Spanish, Levels 1-5 (Latin America). I got this incredibly expensive software (fortunately, my school fees covered some of it) because of my intense commitment to learning Spanish to a nearly fluent level within the span of three months (this was while I was in Latin America, primarily Costa Rica and Paraguay). If you’ve been following this blog for quite awhile, then you’ll know that I was pretty successful in learning Spanish very well in a fairly short period of time (you can check out my Spanish capabilities here, where I gave a presentation to my internship, Fundación Paraguaya, in total Spanish. Yes, there are a few mistakes, for you fluent Spanish speakers out there But still pretty good for three months!).
So some of you curious readers are probably wondering by now what the gist is with Rosetta Stone. Does it work? Does it REALLY make you fluent, and how influential was it in my language learning process?
Here’s how I learned Spanish: I lived in Latin America, where the language is predominantly Spanish; I took Spanish classes with a tutor 3-4 hours a day; I lived with a homestay family in Costa Rica that only spoke Spanish; and to top it all off, I studied Rosetta Stone Spanish every day at night to supplement my language learning skills. Notice that I said SUPPLEMENT. I do not think that Rosetta Stone will make you fluent in a language, or even conversational. Rosetta Stone teaches you random words and phrases, which is great IF you are learning and speaking the language as well- but because it is total immersion, they don’t teach grammatical structure, which makes it difficult to string along actual words that aren’t pre-ordained by Rosetta Stone.
However, Rosetta Stone was a GREAT supplement. It tied together all of my learning and helped me learn much faster. The exercises are fun and easy enough, and you also have the opportunity to practice speaking (they include a mic).
But when it comes down to it, do I RECOMMEND Rosetta Stone? Yes, for these reasons:
- If you are living in a country for an extended period of time (3 months+) and have a serious commitment to learning the language there.
- If you are GOING to travel to a country soon, stay for an extended period of time, and want to start learning the language before you go.
- If you want to learn how to pronounce in the language nearly perfectly. The great thing about Rosetta Stone is that they have seriously rigorous pronunciation exercises, (really annoying at first because you’re always wrong, but then over time you realize how well you speak) and you will eventually be speaking like a pro.
- If you are committed to learning a language, then I would only recommend buying Rosetta Stone if you can get levels 1-5 of the language- and currently, Rosetta Stone only offers levels 1-5 in English (American, though if you’re reading this I doubt you’ll need it), French, German, Italian, and Spanish (Latin America and Spain). Most languages have levels 1-3, or even just level 1. I think that buying only level 1 is completely pointless, in my opinion, because it doesn’t teach you basic phrases. Levels 1-3, in my opinion, also aren’t worth it, because you only start to learn much more advanced language skills in levels 4 and 5.
- If you’re considering taking high school/college credit for a language (in your home country where the language is not spoken) versus using Rosetta Stone, I’d say go for Rosetta Stone (if you have the means and discipline). In my experience, classroom language learning is all about memorization, and there is little individualized attention and speaking. With Rosetta Stone, you can take things at your own pace, the exercises keep you fresh and alert, and you’ll have plenty of time to speak.
I DON’T recommend Rosetta Stone for these reasons:
- If you are going to a country for 1-2 weeks and want to learn basic phrases. Rosetta Stone doesn’t work in this way- they’ll start you off by learning colors, numbers, and sentences such as ‘The girl runs,’ ‘The boy reads,’ etc. They don’t immediately teach you ‘how much,’ or ‘Where is the train station?’ If you’re looking for something to teach you easy phrases, then I recommend a Lonely Planet phrasebook, or something similar. You can also find all kinds of references online, such as YouTube (type in ‘Spanish language learning’ or something similar in reference to what language you’re looking for).
- If you’re choosing between going to a country for a period of time to learn a language, versus just buying Rosetta Stone. ALWAYS CHOOSE THE COUNTRY! Not only will you have some unbelievable adventures, but the absolute best way to learn a language is cultural immersion in the actual country where you want to speak it.
- If it’s a choice between learning from a tutor in the country that speaks the language versus Rosetta Stone by yourself. Rosetta Stone, unfortunately, doesn’t teach much about cultural nuances- what makes the language unique, and how to speak the local dialect. With tutors, you will learn all of those things. They are also more apt to speak only in their native language, which is a bit of a barrier, but more gratifying in the end. Last but not least, you may meet other students to practice the language with! If a person is taking a language course IN the country that speaks the language they’re learning, then they’re very serious about learning it quickly (unlike college or high school classrooms, where it’s a requirement). You’re more likely to meet other people who want to learn just as much as you do- and you’ll probably make friends in the process. Win/win.
Last advice: Rosetta Stone IS a great learning tool. It won’t make you fluent. But it will definitely aid you on your quest to becoming a native (and let’s be honest– we all want to be natives, don’t we?).
If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, I’ve heard great things about Livemocha, where you can learn languages online for free.
I hope that was helpful advice for all of you travelers and adventurers out there that want to take on another language. Believe me, I understand- my quite ambitious and unrealistic goal is to speak seven.
Best of luck future leaders of the free world,
I am slowly but surely sifting through my South America photos to showcase on my website, and I am proud to say that finally pictures from Buenos Aires are up! You can check them out here!
While I’m at it, I thought now would be as good of a time as ever to give a few travel tips on Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires– cool places to check out, things to do and see, etc. Feel free to check them out below.
As I’m about a month behind on my South American stories (I have yet to talk about Chile, Peru, and post pictures of these places and Argentina), I thought now would be as good of a time as any to give a bit of a travel advice post on dealing with Reverse Culture Shock.
First off, some of you novel travelers out there might ask what ‘culture shock’ means, before even questioning ‘reverse culture shock.’ Culture shock, as I’ve aptly described in this post about Paraguay (where I experienced a bit of culture shock myself), is when a traveler first enters a foreign country that is very different from their own, and has sudden feelings of isolation, discomfort, depression, tiredness, nervousness, fear, and other such emotions. These can range from merely uncomfortable to very intense.
REVERSE culture shock is after you have BEEN in a foreign country (or more than one) for a period of time and have adjusted to the food, language, customs, and culture- and then you come BACK to your original country. When you come back to your home country and experience feelings of isolation, discomfort, depression, tiredness, nervousness, fear, etc.- this is reverse culture shock.
Some novel travelers may question why or how someone could feel reverse culture shock. Haven’t we lived in our home country our whole lives and are accustomed to our own culture, food, and customs? Yes. However, it is after being OUTSIDE of this home country and completely expanding our minds to fit in other cultures, languages, and customs, that we see our own country and culture in a different light. ‘Coming home’ can be challenging in many ways because a traveler may have grown accustomed to a different style of living, only to be up-ended yet again- even if our culture is the same as before. It is especially intense if a traveler comes from a developing country where they don’t have modern conveniences, to suddenly being back in the developed world.
I have experienced reverse culture shock four times now- (once from India, once from Thailand, once from Bangladesh, and once from South America). the first time I came home, from India in Spring of 2008, was the most intense. I had been living with a homestay family in India where I had lived in a two bedroom house with six people, using a squat toilet, taking bucket baths, eating completely different and varied food, and living out of a backpack. I remember coming home and absolutely freaking out over a shower, and I marveled at how much water I was wasting. I felt severely uncomfortable using a Western toilet, and I remember the first time I got back to the United States how strange I felt about using toilet paper. From eating rice and dahl back to heavy US food like pasta, was really difficult to handle on my stomach. I remember one night ordering pizza, eating about three slices, and then throwing it up all over the pavement outside of my apartment because I felt so overwhelmed with being back in the United States that I couldn’t even stomach it.
What’s more difficult are those who have NOT had the same experiences as you (such as family members, roommates, and/or friends), who don’t understand how difficult of a transition reverse culture shock is.
So, how to counter reverse culture shock? After my fourth experience with reverse culture shock in the past two years, I think I’ve gotten down a decent method. Here are five steps to counter reverse culture shock:
1) Jet lag. Don’t let it get to you. Whether you’ve been halfway around the world on a different time schedule, you MUST go to sleep on the same time schedule in your home country, even if you’re dead tired and have to wait all day to go to sleep. This is the first and most important step.
2) It is OKAY to take time to marvel at the luxurious things that you hadn’t had when you were traveling. When I used to come home, I would feel an immeasurable sense of guilt that I had a hot shower, soft toilet paper, and an air-conditioned house. I’ve realized that feeling guilt does nothing except exacerbate reverse culture shock. Also be patient with yourself, as these things take time to get used to, and don’t feel guilty when you become accustomed to them again.
3) When I used to come home, I would throw all of my bags and packages in one corner of my room and let it sit there for days, not bringing myself to unpack. Just as I posted before that a step to counter culture shock is to ‘settle in,’ it is equally important to ‘settle in’ when you have reverse culture shock. I’ve found that things become a lot easier when I’ve unpacked and put everything away within the first day or two of coming home.
4) Be upfront with those around you on how you’re feeling. My family and friends would get angry with me when I would come home and sulk- this made them feel like I didn’t want to be around them or be home. To just be honest and say that you’re going through a difficult time and that you need some space at least gives them the message that it’s nothing personal against them. Another good tip is to not push new things you have learned onto friends and/or family. For example, I couldn’t believe how much food my family and friends waste in the United States after being in India for three months. When I got back to the US, I started to always eat EVERYTHING on my plate in order to counter food wastefulness, and encouraged my family to do the same. This made them feel annoyed that I was suddenly judging them for something that I had once done the same. It’s hard to remember that others haven’t had the same experiences at you or seen the same things, but don’t push new ideas and/or expectations on people that aren’t receptive to them.
5) Whenever I come home, I suddenly find myself with oodles of time that I hadn’t had while traveling, and I’m not quite sure what to do with that time. I like to come home and do projects to keep myself busy. For example, I have been cleaning and simplifying my room for the past two years since I started traveling. Every time I’ve come home I’ve gotten rid of more and more things in my room, whether donating them to Good Will, giving things away to friends and family, or selling things. Right now I am in the process of scanning and uploading a ton of documents onto my computer to make more space in my room. Setting little goals for yourself is a good way to keep yourself busy.
All of these little things have made adjustment back to the United States much easier for me every time I come home. While reverse culture shock is difficult and it takes time to acclimate back to your old life, I hope that these tips are helpful.
Of course, the best tip I can give is when you get back home, start planning your next adventure!
Best of luck fellow travelers and until next time,
I decided that it would be a good idea to put some travel tips on Uruguay, such as good buses to take, restaurants to check out, places to go, things to see… I have realized more than ever that many guide books are outdated or have missing information. Therefore, I thought I would tell you exactly what I did and give a little ‘review,’ so for those that stumble upon this website that are going to Uruguay can use this information while they travel! This is also useful for those who want to travel cheaply. I stayed at a cheap hostel, never took a taxi, and managed to make my way around Uruguay pretty comfortably.
Without further ado, Click here for Travel Tips on Uruguay
I am sad to say this, mostly because it poorly reflects on me, but it is nonetheless true, and I always try to live my life by truth. When I was younger and I met people who didn’t speak English fluently (they spoke English, but not very well), I always assumed that they weren’t smart. Even if they did speak English, but had a strong foreign accent and spoke slowly, I would be easily frustrated with them because of their inability to get their points across in a timely matter.
Now that I am in a Spanish-speaking country and talking like a three year old most of the time, it has been a slap in the face for me, because now I assume that OTHERS assume I’m stupid. I suppose this could be something along the lines of karma.
At least my Spanish IS coming along. I can now compose emails to my Spanish professor and my homestay sister in Costa Rica entirely in Spanish, and I understand their replies. Yay! Learning a language is SO frustrating and hard, and it definitely has its plateaus- one day I feel as if I’m almost fluent, and I have conversations with plenty of people in Spanish and feel really on top of it. The next day I can’t even string a sentence together. Learning another language is really difficult because it’s so easy to forget. When I left Costa Rica I felt very confident in my Spanish. Then I got to Paraguay, where people mostly speak Guaraní, the indigenous language of Paraguay. The accent is so strong that I can barely understand what anyone is saying, which is very discouraging for me. Then I didn’t take Spanish lessons for a week, and pretty much talked only in English to my friends and fellow interns. Spanish fell out of my head SO fast that I felt as if I had forgotten almost everything.
Then I had a Spanish lesson and it all came rushing back to me and afterwards I talked to my roommate for a long time in only Spanish. It is very confusing, and truly a love/hate relationship. But I am proud I am coming along and learning, and I dearly hope I will be near fluent by the end of December.