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Leaving the Comfort Behind in Thailand

My Thai taxi driver and I zoomed down the highway from the airport at record breaking speeds. Passing through tollbooths so fast that if you blinked, you’d miss the exchange of money. There wasn’t much to see out the window, so I attempted a conversation with the driver. He spoke about 15 words of english and I spoke about 2 phrases of Thai. The conversations were brief and filled with lots of laughter at our feeble attempts at communication. I felt like I was in a smog filled dream as we drove. How can I be here? After all these months of planning and talking about it, the time is now. It’s been rough. Let me just say, choosing to leave behind any level of comfort is hard. Personally, I left behind a town that I had finally gotten used to, friends i love and cherish, and my very cozy room on the second floor of a beautiful blue farm house surrounded by goats and horses. Why do any of us choose to leave behind the lives that we’ve spent some of our most formative years building? And, is it worth it? I’ll get back to you on that one.

Flash forward 2 weeks, and as we left Railay beach after an afternoon of boats serving us beer and pad thai along the shore, a storm came in. We waited under the shelter of a small structure with about 20 other tourists, the storm brewed stronger and stronger. “Time to go!”, our boat driver told us. “Right now? Alright…” we all said as we exchanged worried looks and nervous laughs. We grabbed our belongings and tried helplessly to shelter our belongings with our bodies and make the walk out to the boat. When we had arrived earlier, the boat had taken us straight to shore, but at that moment, we found out how drastically the tides change in Railay. We shuffled along with lightning striking the mountains around us. We feverishly attempted to stay on the broken remains of a sidewalk that laid about 2 feet beneath the murky ocean water. We led the group of tourists and moved slowly, trying not to trip. Once safely back in the boat, we shivered and laughed and sat impatiently as we took the cold longboat ride back to Krabi. We longed for those enticingly hot showers in our surprisingly chic hostel. My friend inspected her wound and we huddled under the thin top on the longboat.  Oh, did i mention this had been right after my 8 hour overnight bus from Tak to Bangkok, my 1 1/2 hour flight from Bangkok to Krabi? 

Thailand is a land full of surprises, and definitely not always the good kind. If you want to live here, you better have a good sense of humor. Sh*t happens. You gotta be able to roll with it and laugh along the journey. After my brush with an ocean monsoon, the days in the islands turned more and more into what I had imagined. Days spent lazing around by a pool, drinking sugary Thai cocktails (they add sugar to EVERYTHING), frolicking in beautiful azure waters with towering limestone cliffs making up the backdrop. I spent the bulk of my trip in Koh Phi Phi which is an island that’s small, beautiful, and full of tourists. I’ll save you the stories of my Koh Phi Phi debauchery, primarily because my mother might read this. I will say that I made some amazing friends from all over the world, got to limbo under fire, stand on the same beach Leonardo DiCaprio stood in the Beach (along with about 300 asian tourists), ate a lot of seafood, etc. I trust you get the picture; it’s a pretty fun place to act like a carefree backpacker. 

I want to express is how terrifying it can be to make such a leap of faith into a new country and life, as temporary as it may be. But, also the fact that the most terrifying choices we make, tend to be the most memorable and most rewarding. I chose to teach abroad because I didn’t want to just be another backpacker in Southeast Asia. If you have the opportunity and means, why not really LIVE somewhere? Spend some time getting to know a new group of people, a new culture, a new lifestyle, and you will be rewarded with finding a deeper meaning in yourself as well. All of us have reasons we can come up with about why we can’t travel or take these risks. Here’s the thing, if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. 

Author’s Bio: Hailing from the big city of Chicago, Chandler craves oceans, mountains, and the perfect sandwich. She has a long list of places to see before she dies, but first, another episode of this show sounds just fine.

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IMG_0415This morning I had a dream about being in the classroom again. I awoke to the grandfather clock that chimes every fifteen minutes throughout the house, feeling like I had seen them. In my dream, I’m standing at the head of a non-air-conditioned classroom. All ten ASEAN flags dangling from the walls. Five rows of five pairs of wooden desks are covered in whiteout and ink doodles. Each desk chair is filled with a light blue uniform top and navy skirt or shorts. Fifty pairs of shoeless white socks rest beneath them.

I can see their faces: Belle’s is round and whitened, framed by her dark bangs. Beam, with his thin-rimmed glasses smiles at me as if to challenge whether or not I remember his name, his face tilted like a question mark. I see Peam’s wide grin he’d photographed multiple times on my iPod on our last day of class together. In each photo, his smile grows wider and whiter, his eyes closing tighter as if in a flipbook. Their names and class assignments stitched in navy on their shirts scroll like film credits across my sleeping memory, the grandfather clock chiming its end-song.

I had fifty minutes every week with each class of 30 to 50 sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to practice their English-speaking skills, the end of each class marked with the school bell’s tune. We were assigned the top floor of the blue Foreign Language building with open-air hallways overlooking fields of short and tall crepe myrtles and muddy puddles. Green hills spread out in the distance like supermarket broccoli heads. It was a view that made us feel like we were in the depths of rural Thailand instead of the capital city of our metro-Bangkok district.

Our first weeks together, we practiced Show and Tell. Each student was to bring in one special object and tell the class why it is special. One minute, one person, one object. With just fifty minutes to use before the bell, we moved through each minute as if we were an orchestra. As I weaved through the desk rows, humidity clung to my skin as their eagerness to share their stories clung to my spirit.

The boys talked about the special things their girlfriends once gave them: crusted roses kept secret in shoeboxes, bracelets tied by hand, love notes with more cluttered doodles and neatly penned Thai script. In the special science-and-math-track class of 30, May, with frizzy, long black hair tied in a puffy ponytail and too-small glasses, got up in front of the class with a pair of once-shiny, white satin ballet shoes.

“Teacher, today I speak about my ballet shoes. I have no more time because of special classes in biology. I can’t go to dance class anymore.”
May pulled her glasses on top of her head, dabbed her eyes with the tissue she had crumpled into a ball in her hand.
“I love to dance, Teacher. But I must choose.”

Five months into my return home to the Metro Detroit suburbs, snow blanketing our lawn and the outside air bitter and biting, I begin to dream about the sweat that dripped from my hairline when I would teach on that top floor. The grandfather clock ticks at every second, a reminder that time is passing. That time has passed. I stare out at our wood-lined backyard as I wash the dishes, at the tiny deer tracks left behind in the snow around the maples. The water warm on my knuckles, I daydream of the sweeping views of the green hilltops as I scrub tomato sauce from white plates, thinking about the classroom when thunderstorms were on their way. Above the hills, the clouds shaped themselves into cotton balls soaking up black dye. The breeze would flow through the windows and doors, teasing us in a temporary, humid but nourishing coolness. Once, the clouds had distracted Jet from my new lesson on how to mean what you say when answering university interview questions. Jet sat in the back with his chin resting in his palm, picking at his chin-pimples with his nails. Briefly, I imagined what it was that he could be imagining himself before I slapped my hand-fan firmly on his desktop.

He jumped, shifted to sit up straight, and smiled. His grin inched toward his earlobes, sweet, apologetic, with a wisp of innocent defiance as the rest of the class giggled behind me.

“Pay attention,” I’d said as sternly as I could, trying not to smile back.

“Yes, Teacher. Sorry, Teacher,” Jet smiled again.

It’s okay, I thought, I would be, too.

About the Author:  Teresa Mupas is an amateur daydreamer and English instructor who likes beer, punctuation, and compact items that fit neatly and quietly in carry-ons. She practices yoga in her bedroom, folds love notes into origami lotus flowers, and occasionally writes about that which she dreams.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

DSC_0398Stepping off the plane in Jomo Kenyatta airport, the moment of truth had arrived. 16,000kms from home, I hoped that the volunteer organization I had chosen, World Corps Kenya, was a credible group. After receiving my visa, I prayed that there would be someone on the other side waiting for me. I really was not prepared, after 17 hours flying, to find a hotel in Nairobi at 11pm. I have never been to Africa before, and traveling as a single female, was understandably apprehensive. Luckily, as I walked out onto the concourse, a small sign, written in pencil on a lined piece of paper, was amongst the crowd.

I met Graham and Anne, who took me to Anne’s house, where I met Anne’s children. The next day, I went with Anne as she delivered cakes to people around the city. I learned that I was worth a lot of cows and sheep, as men asked Anne about me. I also learned that it is VERY important to look both ways before crossing the street, narrowly being squashed by a bus. Anne and her family were so welcoming, and helped me to navigate taxis, mutatus (15 passenger minibuses) and introduced me to some local staples, such as sukuma wiki and ugali.

After leaving them, I took a bus to Voi, where I met Patrick, my volunteer coordinator. The next morning, James and a few other rangers came to get me, along with a bed, mattress and other supplies for the small towns near Lumo Sanctuary. Along the way, we picked up women and children, letters, water and food, and shuttled them to their respective destinations. I was overwhelmed immediately with a sense of community. Everyone knows everyone.

That sense of community continued at the Sanctuary, where I learned that this was a community conservation project, employing local rangers to help protect the animals in the grasslands south of Voi. I was able to go on scouting rides, help de-snare areas, and build traditional huts. It was wonderful watching so many people working together, with a common goal. Listening to the women sing as they thatched the roofs of the huts, really made me realize that, despite having very few material things, they still exuded happiness. I felt so privileged to sit in on a community World Vision meeting, and to volunteer at 2 local schools, where the students danced for me, and the adults I was tutoring started to make connections with the material they were learning.

Many people ask me if I felt homesick, or experienced culture shock, but I really don’t think I did. It was very easy to adjust to kerosene lamps and basin showers, listening to hyenas and elephants as I slept, because I knew the people around me were good people, who cared about their companions. Even going to the Pentecostal church, 5km away (walking) brought home the idea of community. Whether you know someone or not, you greet them, and they become your brothers and sisters.

Having this experience, it made me realize, that in our developed nations, are we really truly happy? We may have money to buy everything we need, but without community, a family, is our life complete? Perhaps it is just me, but I think we need to strive to reach out to our neighbours and start caring about them (especially in North America).

About the Author: Julie Soares is a Canadian teacher, who is currently in the UK, teaching Chemistry and Physics at an all girls school. She is an avid traveler, whose goal is to experience the world. With a passion for girls and women’s education, she hopes to move to a developing country to pursue this passion.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

ariana“Do you ever feel already buried deep?

Six feet under screams, but no one seems to hear a thing

Do you know that there’s still a chance for you

‘Cause there’s a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine

Just own the night like the 4th of July

‘Cause baby you’re a firework…….”

         My fourth and fifth graders practice their rendition of Katy Perry’s “Firework” while making hand gestures simulating fireworks exploding in the wind.  I chuckle softly, watching them through the mini i-camera on my iPhone.  It’s moments like these that I want to record.  Maybe I should show their parents.

“Louder, louder!  Boom, boom, boom,”  I mouth at the girls singing enthusiastically.

“Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon,” they respond loudly.

I turn off my iPhone mini camera just as the song concludes.

“That was so great!  I’ll check the video to study the gestures you guys made up,” I inform my students.

The bell rings precisely at 3:00 p.m., signaling the end of our music lesson.  At this time, we all have to clean as a class.  One child sweeps the hallway; others mop the floor; another one sweeps; another vacuums; and yet another cleans the whiteboard.  I supervise the kids, offering assistance when necessary.  Everyone works together and supports one another.

Which basically sums up my new life here in Ginowan, Okinawa, Japan.

I just moved to Okinawa from mainland Japan around three months ago, and thus far I am having a great time.  I teach a combination class of fourth and fifth graders at AmerAsian School in Okinawa, otherwise known as AASO, mostly serving AmerAsian children.  Even though we are living in Japan, the elementary school students are taught primarily in English.  I had been teaching English at an international school in mainland Japan prior to teaching at AASO, and so I was really impressed with my students’ near-native fluency in English.

Everything about this school is incredible.  Perhaps it is not fair to compare and the past is the past, but everything is in direct contrast to my previous place of employment.  Everyone is hard-working; my boss is open and available to discuss anything that comes up;  we have all of the teaching materials and resources we need at our disposal; other teachers are caring and help each other.  It just feels like a real team.  Even more importantly, my students light up my life.  I finally feel as if I have a real purpose.

My partner and I relocated to Okinawa from mainland Japan mainly for the many work opportunities.  We had been feeling unmotivated and disillusioned–stuck in the same place–for a long time.

But that doesn’t matter anymore.  I need to focus on the here and now.

“Ms. J, may I see the video?” my student Miuta asks excitedly.

“Are you finished vacuuming?” I double check.

“Yes,” she replies.

“Okay, then,” I answer as I start replaying the video on my iPhone.

Miuta, the D-class performer, sings and dances along with the video, and when it gets to, “Maybe you’re reason why all the doors are closed

So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road,” I also join in.

I just love that part!

By that point, the rest of my girls huddle around me, trying to sneak a peak at the video.

“Ms. J, Ms. J, I want to see,” Miuta whines.

“Wait, wait a minute, girls,” I say, laughing out loud.  I have so much fun teaching this class!

And that is what my days are like here every school day.  Starting from my first day of teaching, which incidentally took place in the middle of their school year, my students welcomed me with open arms; and I just knew that I wanted to stay here for a long time.

Welcome to D-class.

About the Author, Ariana Jauregui: A California native of Mexican-American descent, Ariana Jauregui has been living and teaching in Japan for over 10 years.  She enjoys reading, writing, meditating, walking, watching films, and just learning about EVERYTHING, including new cultures.  Having recently obtained her master degree in education, Ariana hopes to instill in her students her love of reading, writing, and lifelong learning.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

1394259_10151619747907391_2016029647_nAs a society, we are quick to share our positive experiences. Social media allows us to post updates immediately after a dream job offer, a proposal, or a trip to paradise. I believe the ease and accessibility of it all gives us a false perspective of our friends. I, like most, fall into the “comparison trap” of looking at other peoples’ lives from behind my screen and thinking, “They are so lucky” or “why isn’t that my life?”

For whatever reason, talking about darker times and sharing less-than happy experiences is a bit taboo, so what we read online is usually only half the story. It would be easy to share the stories of my trips abroad with a fine sugar coat, but I prefer to live more transparently than that. Where I am, what I have seen and the person I have become would not mean anything without the journey it took to get here.

When I was 15, I began a long-time battle with an eating disorder. For years I was in and out of appointments, hospitals and rehab. It became the only thing that mattered to me and I lost every ounce of myself through the process. Eventually, I surrendered my body and braced myself to face the worst.

During my last (and final) visit to the hospital, a therapist challenged me to set one goal for the future. At the time, I had no plans for the following week, never mind the next year, because I didn’t think my body would survive much longer. Then, one day I thought about traveling. I thought about what it would be like to see the other side of the world, to splash around in foreign seas and explore unknown lands. For the first time since being consumed by the deadly voice in my head, I was able to imagine a future for myself. Lying in the hospital one evening, I decided I would recover and see the world. With that, I started the process of giving up my eating disorder and I contracted a new disease: Wanderlust.

Recovery was a long and painful process, as it is for most people with addictions, but I was determined and persistent. By the time I was 22 I was emotionally, physically and spiritually sound, and I was confident in my ability to lead a healthy life on my own. I packed my belongings into three bags, got on a plane four planes and flew from Florida to Cambodia to become an ESL teacher.

Once I received my TESOL certification, I moved to Chiang Rai, Thailand where I was hired at a small Montessori school. After I had been teaching for nine months, my family journeyed to my side of the world for some rest and relaxation in the Land of Smiles. We spent four days exploring the islands surrounding Krabi. I had previously seen pictures of Krabi’s postcard sunsets and flawless sea, but I never could have imagined the breathtaking views I was able to see during my vacation. Despite the fact that Krabi is a tourist destination, its natural beauty is undeniable. No amount of people could take away from its picturesque scenery.

During a day trip to Railay Beach, while cruising through the crystal blue waters in a long-tailed boat, feeling radiations of love from my family and the Universe as I looked out at the perfect view, I found myself thinking, “I have arrived. This is life, and it is so effing amazing.” I remembered the 16-year-old version of myself—the girl who barely had enough strength to stand, who had no hope left and who had lost herself completely. I immediately became so overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I breathed in the fresh, sea-salt air and exhaled a quiet “thank you” to my former self. A thank you for believing a better life was possible, for bringing me to paradise, and for letting me experience everything I had dreamed of. I thanked her, and I was in awe of her…I was in awe of myself. I had set a goal, kept my promises, and (against the odds) I succeeded.

It’s hard to feel connected to the person I was and the person I am because we are very different. I often think back to Hermann Hesse’s words, “The river is everywhere.” I am she and she is I. No matter where this life takes me, my past will always be a part of my present. I truly believe that the struggles and so-called “bad times” are the parts of our lives that paint our stories with color. Those are the parts of life that allow us to experience awe in all of its purity and appreciate how beautiful this journey really is.

About the Author: Melinda Nelson fancies herself a land-roaming mermaid. She currently works as an ESL teacher in Chiang Rai, Thailand and is passionate about her volunteer work with the National Eating Disorders Association. Melinda believes in “paying it forward”, feeling connected, good energy, and hugs. You can contact Melinda on Facebook or follow her journey on her blog.

George Rajna: The Chalkboard Champion Who Promotes Multi-Cultural Awareness

Many hardworking educators give unselfishly to causes near and dear to their hearts, and chalkboard champion George Kenneth Rajna is a fine example of this. George is an elementary school teacher, bilingual speech and language pathologist, Peace Corps volunteer, musician, and travel writer who has traveled to over one hundred countries across six continents around the world. He has worked tireless throughout his professional career to promote multi-cultural awareness.

George was born in Santa Monica, California. He graduated from the American University in Washington, DC, with an MBA in International Marketing. He has also attended California State University, Northridge, where he earned his master’s degree in science with an emphasis in communicative disorders.

From 1995 to 1999, George was employed as an elementary schoolteacher in both the Inglewood and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. George has also donated his teaching talents as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Paraguay, where he supported a government educational reform program used by teachers to engage students with didactic materials, hands-on activities, and multi-modal instruction. During his Peace Corps experience, George promoted programs improving dental hygiene in the local community, and he also facilitated workshops for teachers to assist them in creating and utilizing instructional materials for their classrooms.

After his return from Paraguay, George accepted a position as a speech and language pathologist in the Lennox School District in Lennox, California. He was employed there for six years, working with students who suffered from varying degrees of autism and children who exhibited articulation, language, and fluency delays. During his tenure in Lennox, George also mentored new clinicians on how to effectively treat children with speech and language disorders.

George met his future wife, science teacher Lisa Niver, online in 2007, and the following year the couple went on sabbatical together, travelling all over Southeast Asia. Their 2013 book Traveling in Sin describes their unique experiences on this trip, and how their sabbatical fostered the growth of their relationship. Together, George and Lisa founded an award-winning web site, We Said Go Travel, a global community of over one hundred writers who have publicly shared meaningful stories related to travel and world culture. George has also published travel articles in the Huffington Post, Jewish Journal, theHimalayan Times, Technorati, and The Clymb. In addition, George and Lisa are sought-after public speakers.

Here is a link to George and Lisa Rajna’s web site: We Said Go Travel.

Here is a link to George and Lisa Rajna’s book: Traveling in Sin.

George Chalkboard champion

huff post confessions 600 likesThank you to the Huffington Post for sharing my story: Why So Many of America’s Teachers Are Leaving The Profession

John Owens in his book, Confessions of a Bad Teacher, shares that “America’s public school teachers are being loudly and unfairly blamed for the failure of our nation’s public schools.” As a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and a veteran of public and private schools for the last twenty years, I have to agree but I was glad to hear someone else say it in print.

The vast majority of teachers are working overtime without the tools or budget to manage the plethora of issues inside and outside the classroom. On top of that, administrators who only compound the situation by micromanaging the wrong things make the lives of teachers completely untenable with their lack of support.

Most teaching preparation programs including the one Mr. Owens attended do not adequately prepare anyone for life in the classroom. For many beginning teachers, “It was as though I had just joined the circus as an apprentice clown and was immediately required to juggle plates, bowling pins, butcher’s knives, and axes all day long while walking along a tightrope in midair.” Teachers make more decisions per hour than any other job including what to do with a student who falls behind, manage students with learning or emotional problems, tailor each lesson every day to up to 125 students or more who are somewhere between illiterate and highly gifted.

Sadly some administrators, students and parents instead of partnering with teachers, blame “teachers which is easier than doing a massive system overhaul.”


The article ends:

In Los Angeles, new teachers and old can find mentorship and engaging lessons with the Los Angeles Science Teachers Network. In response to an overwhelming situation in 2009, I created this network for professional development, support and camaraderie. Administrators cannot do everything and we all must participate to improve learning for the children. Do not listen to the blame. Do something about it. We are each responsible to do what we can. Write a blog, start a network, help a child and find a way to feel supported in the classroom. America needs you.

About the Author: Lisa Niver Rajna was a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. She was the first teacher to appear on Career Day. She and her husband George are on a career break sharing their world adventures on We Said Go Travel.

cambodiaCambodia: Back to the Heart of Youth Work

People have asked me “Why? Why teach abroad? You have everything at home. A support system: family, a girlfriend, a job. Why do it?”

Nowadays, with company cut-backs and layoffs, seniority is no longer a factor. It’s about the business’s survival not yours. Job security is dead. You can no longer rely on working for an employer for 20-30 years and then retiring with full benefits. The economy will eventually recover and companies are slowly starting to increase hiring. But you can’t be fooled into trusting your financial security with another seemingly-reliable company ever again. If the opportunity comes up, of course, take it, but people are learning not to rely solely on income from a job. This recession has proven that companies will not honor their end of the bargain when the going gets tough.

But why did i choose to work in Cambodia? Am I running towards something or running away from it? This really hit home when, during an interview for a teaching position, the school director explained to me that there are three different types of teachers:

-the teacher who failed back home and is seeking a fresh start;
-the teacher who is altruistic and truly wants to give back; or
-the teacher that is only interested in drinking and partying.

It was clear he was trying to size me up, but I don’t believe I fit into a specific category.

I began this journey as a way of gaining a more realistic picture of a culture rather than reading about it in a book or googling it. I wanted to see the world and return home with the satisfaction of having contributed to a community and experienced a new culture as no tourist can. So, I traveled nearly 9,000 miles to sell my brand.

Teaching abroad has allowed me to use leadership skills to conduct a class, pick up a new language (even just conversationally), build an international network and communicate across cultural barriers. Back home, my extroverted personality has always gotten me into trouble but, in Cambodia, it has been my saving grace. I’m more confident in who I am and in my abilities. I may have been selling my brand, but I am getting something much more valuable in return

Cambodia. The new Wild, Wild West.

Practically no police presence. Their transportation system is inadequate. No one practices road safety. Mothers and their infants ride on the back of motorbikes. Two, three, four people on one motorbike. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone wearing a helmet. Pedestrians step into and stroll through traffic as if there are no cars and motorbikes zooming by. They would put a professional New York City jaywalker to shame. You may spot the stray officer attempting to direct traffic but his efforts are in vain.

What is a big attraction for tourists and expatriates is the standard of living. Beers are $0.75. Well drinks are $2.50. A complete meal costs anywhere between $2.00 and $5.00. A standard room at a guesthouse, like the one I stayed at during my first week — Rory’s Guesthouse — costs $11 per night. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $150 per month. But these are luxuries that foreigners indulge in since a large percentage of the population live below the poverty line. Adults and children make a living on the street, begging and stealing and eating food from the trash. They don’t have social security, so a job is essential to survive. The average salary for a full time hotel employee is $95 per month. But a foreigner working as a part-time English teacher (15 hours a week) can make $150 per week. Cambodians treat foreigners very well, often better than they treat fellow Cambodians. It certainly puts one’s life back home into perspective.

My journey through Cambodian culture left a mark on my soul and created friendships that will last a lifetime. And I hope to one day revisit Cambodia. Only fear of the unknown, of abandoning the comfortable feeling of the familiar that one finds in one’s own land, stands in the way of embracing other cultures. Ultimately, by embracing another culture, you may just find your own, your self, as I did.

About the Author: Ruvane Schwartz I am 41 years old, Jewish and grew up in Brooklyn,NY . I graduated from Baruch College with a Marketing Degree but have discovered my passion for travel and trying things outside my comfort zone. I especially love Cambodia. I am sarcastic, easy going but a little neurotic. I am Jewish. Its in our DNA! Follow him at www.khromozomes.com 

448More than a decade after qualifying as a Doctor and having bounced around various jobs in India and the UK, I am now practising in a College in Melaka, Malaysia, charged with sharing my knowledge with budding Doctors and Dentists. Hence, most of the time I spend my days shuttling between classes and clinics dreaming of my own student days and how similar, yet how different they were from what I see now. And when I’m not doing that, I sit at home and marvel at where I am in life, literally and otherwise.

I moved to Malaysia four years ago and it’s been a good ride. I’m on the other side of the fence, watching students become doctors, some living their dreams and some fulfiling their parent’s aspirations. I see some huge talent here-people I know will become great doctors, not because of the knowledge they have, but because of how they carry themselves. How they communicate, how they are willing to learn.
And that, really, is what the art of medicine is all about-the empathy, the art of listening to a patient, really listening. Without the art, the science of medicine is a lonely figure. I hope my students will understand that, if not now, then perhaps at some point in the future. It took me a while but of course, I’m still learning too.

I don’t harbour illusions that they will remember all that I have taught by the time they graduate, but in every Convocation I come away hoping that perhaps, somehow, in some small insignificant way, I was able to make a difference.

I’m fortunate to have my family here with me-my wife who’s been a rock and my four year old daughter, who define our lives. I feel very lucky-I’ve been through more downs than ups before I arrived here and my family has always been right there. I’ve made mistakes, but all have been my own. I’ve let people down but I’ve (hopefully) made up. At long last, I feel settled.

I’m at peace here, in Melaka, this little UNESCO World Heritage City in the heart of Malaysia. The Lonely Planet calls it the “Soul of Malaysia” and who am I to argue? I find peace at home, with my daughter playing catch in the bedroom while my wife waits for something to break, I find happiness in the silence of a walk by the quiet Melaka riverside, with the gentle splashing of the water briefly broken by the wake of passing boats and I can sit for hours by the seaside watching families flying kites and couples holding hands, with the wind in my hair and the sand under my feet.

I enjoy the calm that descends when I write and I’m grateful my current job allows me the luxury of having the time to pursue it (not that I’ve written anything much and of any significance). I like the odd badminton game, often with students who harbour no qualms at beating me effortlessly but who always ensure I don’t leave the court thoroughly embarrassed. I love the occasional banter with the students, sometimes in person and sometimes on “Evil Facebook”. ( I am a Facebook addict).

I love the smell of the rain coming in from the sea and the rush of the wind on the empty roads and I love the sight of the vast green palm plantations and the ribbon of smooth tarmac snaking through them.

I love the fact that people know how to drive.

I love the smile on my daughter’s face as I pick her up from school and I stand at the door and watch as she runs and hugs her mother, with a big “Mama!” and the look on her face when I create a story with her as the hero.
I look forward to the few quiet moments we get when she finally, but usually reluctantly, goes to sleep and I wait for the sounds of “Papa!” when she yawns and gets ready to start a brand new day.

Oh there is so much to be grateful for. The peace I have found here is second to none. I am in love with this wonderful city and its wonderful residents. I hope to stay for many more years to come.

Thank You Melaka.

About the Author: Nishikanta Verma: I am an Indian doctor currently residing in Malaysia. I am passionate about all things related to Cambodia and also have current interests in World History, Buddhism and Quantum Physics. I am married with one daughter and another on the way. Twitter: @jipmerdays.

ghanaI started the morning off with a bucket shower. I attempted to scoop up water that had the least amoeba-like creatures wriggling in it. I always found it a help that not wearing glasses while showering allowed me to employ the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kind of thinking that was needed when pouring contaminated water over yourself. It was pointless though, for any shower was made superfluous by the thrice daily plod over the hill, through the bush, to the school where I gave computer lessons. The zigzag through the fallen cassava was just long enough to have me greet my students dripping with sweat.

To open my classroom windows, I pushed the kente looms to the side, displacing a sizeable lizard. I had to wipe my brow multiple times with the shirt I had deemed the ‘least dirty’ in the pile on the bunk above my bed. As a novice hand washer it took me an hour to do a bucket of clothes which took a day to air dry, if it didn’t rain. In the days between washes my shirts acted as magnets for the red Ghanaian soil and the palm oil that was present in every meal.

Soon six of my twenty were perched on their stools along my table, typing on the keyboards I had them draw in the first week. Their languages were Nzema and Twi, English was a challenging new addition. I constantly had to remind them to use English, though their inflection and body language were enough to tell me that they thought endless repetition of ‘a’ and ‘;’ with their pinkies was pointless and boring. But when it was her turn to use the laptop and she received an accuracy score of 100%, Elizabeth pushed back her chair and gave herself an ecstatic standing ovation.

By the end of the day I had sweated through my classes, as well as my t-shirt. But as it was volleyball day, I helped to herd the cats to the pitch, which was an activity that took at least 30 minutes. In that time Diana and Elizabeth told me their stomachs hurt too much to play and three students asked to do my laundry instead. My once weekly laundry sessions clearly didn’t cut it in a culture where the little they had was always in pristine condition. I promised them I would do a load after school, and they were welcome to stay and coach me.

Once there were finally two working teams, Akwidaa versus Cape Three Points, the game started. I chose to sit with Diana and Elizabeth who, as best friends, shared everything, obviously including matching stomach ailments. I allowed Elizabeth to braid my hair while Diana kept score. It wasn’t long until she was fired from this position and she happily settled next to me to inspect my left forearm. I expected her to mention my sunburn or my mosquito bites but instead she gave me her absolutely radiant smile and said, “Your arm is beautiful!” Just another day at the office.

About the Author: Haley Olson now attends Carleton College in Northfield, MN after taking a year off to teach in Ghana and to travel and work in the U.K., Ireland, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic.  She kept a blog of her travels at www.hcovt.wordpress.com and will hopefully be adding more adventures to it soon!