Volunteering in Taiwan: Dada School

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Interested in getting out and seeing a new country but wanting to volunteer and get involved in local culture and community at the same time? Do you like children? Are you interested in teaching English learning activities? Have you been to Asia yet? Not yet? How about Taiwan?

If you’re still reading this then I’m assuming you are looking for the nitty gritty behind getting here. Let me explain.Named by the Portuguese, Island Formusa, Taiwan lives up to it’s name with sensational landscapes, colorful and lively night markets filled with exotic treats, and very friendly people. A nation very different from mainland China and a place unlike any other Asian nation Taiwan is known for stinky tofu, the bettle nut beauties, it’s gorgeous eastern coastline, and the mighty gorges of Taroko National Park in Hualien. Taiwan has so much to offer the curious traveler whether it’s explores the concrete jungle capital of Taipei, getting lost in the night markets, or tasting the blends of tea that Taiwan is known for.

I was really interested in exploring more of Asia while volunteering in an Asian country.Taiwan had been on my mind for some time because I had a guide book sitting on my night stand for months just looking back at me. With the deep interest to explore exotic night markets, go hiking, and immerse myself in everything Taiwanese I knew I had to find a way to plan my trip there. Then I stumbled upon Dada School in Chungli, Taiwan online.

From the summer of 2011 through the fall of 2013 I have participated in their lovely program for students while also taking trips with them. I have assisted in their summer camps to the east coast of Taiwan all the way to Hualien down to camping in the southeast region of the island near Taitung. With three separate volunteer experiences here I want to share with you all that you need to know and why I love John and Ching and they teaching assistant Sonny, who brings the sunshine everyday. By the way, you can find more about Dada School from helpx.org.
WHAT: John and Ching operate an after school program (similar to Buxiban but better) where students from elementary to high school level come to learn and practice their English with international volunteers. Dinner is prepared at the school every evening by Chef Sonny and Ching with the help of volunteers to assist in cutting and preparing the meal. The food is seriously a delight, trust me on this one. With Ching’s high ability to prepare delicious meals without a recipe with your personal dietary needs in mind I don’t see how you could be disappointed with her cooking.

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Road trip down the east coast with the kids

WHERE: Located next to Linsen Elementary School in Chungli and a ten minute walk from Chungli Train Station, Dada School is in convenient and central location in Chungli. A two minute walk away is 7-11, a handful of tea shops, and a few sandwich breakfast shops that offer soya milk. The fresh market with local fruits and vegetables is less than a five minutes walk. Also there is a Watsons drug store where you can find all of your every day beauty and hygiene products that is less than a eight minute walk. In terms of finding snacks and every day needs, it is all a stones throw away.

ACCOMMODATION: An apartment located less than a five minutes walk from Dada School is provided for volunteers ( no cost). The apartment is two floors with four bedrooms and two bathrooms and a large open space living room. Please leave the apartment in the same way when you arrived. Trash can be taken to Dada School for disposal
VOLUNTEER: Some students are paired with volunteers for conversation class. Ching might ask you to help correct essays and homework. Helping clean up the kitchen area and preparation of meals may be asked. However, if you enjoy food prep and cleanup this may be up your alley.
EXPECT: Expect enriching life experiences that will change the way you view learning. Expect to assist helping children learn, delectable meals, and Taiwanese culture combined into a combination of experiences that will shape your life and change you forever (in a good way).

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Taking the unplanned route: Thailand on my own

I knew that I always wanted to visit Thailand, it was just a matter of getting myself there and having a plan. I was in love with my favorite Thai restaurant back home, Bangkok, and because of my curiosity I knew that I would eventually find myself there sooner than later. Looking around at all the beautiful deco and photos that the restaurant owners carefully placed around the seating areas I knew that I would pick Thailand as my travel destination during my winter vacation after settling into South Korea.

Sidenote: I recently found out that the owners of Bangkok in Danbury, Connecticut who inspired me to take my first journey to Asia on my own died in an airplane crash in 2015. I want them to know that because of their restaurant I was deeply inspired and moved to venture to Thailand on my own.

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Na Muang Waterfalls, Koh Samui

Fast forward five months later and there I was on a bone chilling morning still dark outside finding my way through the underground in Seoul on my way to Incheon Airport. I was so ready to be in a warmer climate, eat the delicacies of Thailand, find myself in  night markets soaking in all of the culture in Bangkok, and enjoying a proper Thai massage. In the midst of my own excitement I had done little planning because this was my first trip traveling Asia by myself. Two years prior I had backpacked my way around South Africa on the Baz Bus from Jo-burg to Cape Town but planning was minimal because all I did was have to pick my accommodation from the guidebook and I would be dropped off door to door.
There was something so scary to me at first about traveling to Thailand by myself without a plan. I didn’t know the language, transportation system, most visited destinations, and I felt entirely self conscious and overly nervous about this adventure that I found myself in a panic on the plane. With only my first night booked at a highly recommended backpackers in Bangkok, I had no outside knowledge of where I would be traveling to next or how I would get there.

 

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After checking in and dropping off my luggage I was out on the town riding a tuktuk and enjoying local pad thai at a night market with a fresh mango smoothie. On Ko San Ro there was so much to take in. Lots of street eats, massage parlors, shopping, and more. My first night was cool to take in but I knew that I wanted to get out of the capital and discover beautiful beaches and scenery. With Christmas and New Years only days away I browsed for accommodation online and found that most places were sold out. With a little more last minute research on a whim I booked at I-bed in Ko Samui not knowing exactly how I would get myself there. Following the sketchy directions from the hostel desk workers I arrived on foot to a bus station that would take my first to Cha-Am then onto Ko Samui. I spent my four remaining days meeting really cool people at I-Bed, toured around the island visiting the waterfalls, and enjoyed as much curry and Thai food as my body could handle.

I want to say that I fell in love with Koh Samui at first sight. This island is lush, beautiful, and has gorgeous beaches. The Celebrity Millennium tenders in Koh Samui and I so deeply hope that one day soon I can work on that ship with the chance to return to my type of paradise.

Finding common ground in the Philippines: Why I keep coming back

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Intramuros, Manila

I’ve traveled throughout the Philippines on four separate trips now and to this day I still recommend the Philippines as an excellent travel destination in southeast Asia. Why? Because Filipinos are warm and embracing people.Food is cheap and delicious. You can never run out of destinations to visit. The Philippines offer cooler environs outside of sticky Manila such as Baguio and Sagada.

Okay, so maybe I have a boyfriend who is from there but there must be a reason why I keep coming back and making travel arrangements near and far. My first trip there was to the island of Bohol and it was this trip that I traveled there alone back in 2013 with one intention in mind: to see for myself Chocolate Hills. More on that later.

Compared to many other southeast Asia destinations the Philippines offers cheap travel around the country through ferries and buses,exotic and tasty food, and beyond affordable accommodation throughout the country.Think cheap massages, exotic meals (very inexpensive), beaches never too far away, many English speakers, and sincerely kind people.

Just a short list of my reasoning alone makes me want to come back as a vacation destination because there is always something new to learn about Filipino culture, new places to explore, and unlimited foods to try. It is the Philippines as a travel destination that I highly recommend to anyone who is thinking about jet setting to southeast Asia.

Culturally speaking the list of what you can experience in the Philippines is endless. From the delicious cuisine with exotic fruits to yummy street foods such as lumpia, loads of smiles from the locals (especially upon walking into a store) fried bananas, and buko (coconut) juice. The landscapes of the Philippines drastically change as you travel from the overpopulated capital of Manila to the province, and to the islands. The Philippines consists of  7,107 islands! With these many islands you are never bound to get bored or run out of places to see. What truly has highlighted my experience of traveling the Philippines from caving Sagada and walking through Echo Valley to witness the Hanging Coffins up on the mountain  to quiet Alona Beach in Bohol .  Filipino people have truly made each trip to the Philippines very special to me.

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Enjoying a birthday celebration in Bohol

It’s very easy to hear the negative side of traveling to the Philippines from foreigners such as getting scammed, robbed, or getting a bad first impression of Manila upon arrival (the traffic, air pollution, and the overwhelming poverty). I can admit that yes I have been scammed by taxis and tricycle drivers before but that has not deferred me from wanting to keep coming back to the Philippines to see what else is out there.With that said, I’m here to shed the light on what the Philippines really has to offer as a travel destination. There are all good people in the world near and far. I have met all different kinds of people throughout the world and all throughout southeast Asia, however I haven’t met such smily and accommodating people in all my life since discovering it in the Philippines. The people of the Philippines has stuck with me as my main reason for what sets this destination apart from other places.

In July of 2013 I set off to Bohol because I was dying to see the beautiful mounds of Chocolate Hills and the tarzier creatures with the big bug eyes. Nothing and not a single soul was going to get in the way of my plans to reach Carmen in Bohol to view these chocolate hills. After a short flight from Manila, Bohol greeted me with the dreaminess of Alona beach and all of the beautiful people, surroundings, and foods on what they call “White Beach” similar to Borocay. I fell in love with it at first sight.

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The beloved, Chocolate Hills in Bohol

With every destination you visit of course there is always the good and bad parts. For example someone can love the cuisine in India but hate the traffic and pollution in the cities. I loved cycling around Kyoto on my own and stopping at my leisure to take in what it had to offer however I felt very frustrated by my two trips there when I really couldn’t find my way around Kyoto because there really weren’t many English speakers to guide me or answer my questions. In Manila the traffic, overpopulation, poverty, and smog that fill the capital is such a pity and downer to me but I still love the people. The Philippines truly has to much to offer in terms of sightseeing, landscapes, diversity, languages, and cuisine. It’s been four trips now and I am starting to think when I will be back. As much as I have been offered the chance to live there it is much better for me to visit. The Philippines will always be a place that I can visit and I have many reasons why I can keep coming back.

For more information about travel and life in the Philippines check out my vlogs on Youtube here.

A Solo Adventure in Bali: The Island of Gods

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Bali was always place that I had always wanted to visit after reading Eat, Pray, Love (like three times). Not because I was recently divorced or experiencing a critical heartbreak in my life but my own curiosity was leading me to a place where I wanted to completely immerse myself and enjoy on my own, solo. Peace, solitude, and acceptance wrap up my understanding of how I felt l about Bali and still feel based on my immersion in the little gem of Ubud. For the curious solo travelers, Bali is a unique destination that I always recommend. Why? Because it is so easy to navigate your way around this small enough island with more than enough to do in a one week getaway. Did you know that Bali is one of the most saturated destinations for a solo traveler (mostly female)?

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The heart of Bali, Ubud, is a peaceful playground that attracts the kind of people who practice yoga, create and practice artist, and those who are curious enough to leave the popular sites like surfing spot Kuta Beach behind to discover a layer of Bali that you cannot experience in an expat playground such as Kuta.

Of course if you read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love then you must be familiar with Ubud. Ubud is truly the heart of Bali located in the center of the island surrounded by rice field terraces, lovely nature paths, monkey forest, and pleasurable dining venues and cafes. You can’t miss Monkey Forest Road, a long road with local shops, artists, bistros, and cafes. For those in wanderlust mode you won’t fall short of pleasurable things to enjoy, even if that means enjoying smoothie overlooking the rice fields.

The sunrise is one of the coolest sights that you can’t miss to get your day started in Ubud. I took an early morning yoga class at the Yoga Barn where our class overlooked the rice paddies at the sun rose over the treetops. It was truly mesmerizing. It was a sight that for the rest of my life, I can never forget.

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Bali is so dear to me because it’s the first place that I traveled to alone where I felt at home. I felt at peace navigating my way around while I was in  search of beautiful spots to soak in. Away from the main drag of where expats like to hang out in and around Monkey Forest Road I always found myself on a long stretch of paths that led me to beautiful sunsets where I completely took in my surroundings of exotic flora, locals selling colorful fruit and it was here where I felt so lucky to witness what I had thought of the landscapes, a painting. For the curious traveler I hope that you day you too take home a piece of Bali for yourself.

Deskwarming: The obligatory task when teaching at a public school in Korea

 

 

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Situation A: My desk. Filled with photos of my dog. No class today.

An empty school. An empty parking lot. Maybe three teachers tops are presently at the school for the day processing paperwork and answering the photos for their “duty” day required of them in between semesters. And you, the foreigner are at your desk all day long trying to find anything that comes your way to pass the time more quickly. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Ahhh. It’s desk warming!

I will never in my life be able to forget the long days filled with sitting at my desk when 99.9% of the time I was sitting alone in a bare unheated office asking myself over and over again why I had to be there in the first place and what on earth was the purpose of my existence in a nearly empty school when I could be sitting in my apartment doing the same thing except in my pajamas but in front of my heating fan with a bowl of hot ramen to warm me up.

When you sign your contract to teach at a public school in South Korea you basically are signing your life away to many important tasks that you must fulfill in your duties and that does include desk warming. Desk warming are essentially days that can turn into weeks where you are required as per your contract to come to school like a regular school day except no children are there. All of the school staff have to rotate this task as well whether it be three teachers a day sitting in the main office doing paperwork for the school and answering phone calls. You however, the dear foreigner, waygookin, most likely will be joining them in the main office watching them or alone in your office next to the English classroom. Be prepared to fulfill these duties as it is a requirement and there is no scurrying out of it. Following the standard code of Korean way does prove your “diligence” as it is however a very strange concept of wasting time.

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Situation B: An empty classroom. All students are at home.

My desk warming days were ones that I will never miss. They were filled with endless cups of hot tea and instant Korean coffees,munching on choco pies, googling “how to survive desk warming”, watching YOUTUBE videos on desk warming, writing emails to my foreign friends who were also desk warming and browsing through waygook.org creating forums with the title “why do I have to do desk warming?”
In the winter they were long miserable days where I dreamed of being o

n a warm tropical beach laughing at my empty and cold office and never looking back. My days were spent with all layers of my clothing on including my winter jacket, scarf, hat, and sometimes mittens because the pipes had frozen and the cold air was coming through the windows.
Looking back I laugh more at my desk warming disaster in the winter months because of how cold the school was and no matter how many layers I had on, I was still freezing. My body wasn’t very adaptable to the drastically cold temperatures of winters in the ROK.

Drinking cup after cup of hot tea with honey to warm me up and slurping instant Korean noodles while drinking the steaming broth still could not warm my freezing body.
The only thing I can say to make you to make you feel better about your future of desk warming is that it will get better in the summer months because you will busy planning for summer camp while no classes are in session and usually your co-teachers will be planning the budget and outline of the camp. Oh, and you won’t be freezing! Instead, you will be snacking on Korean drinking yogurts, seasonal fruits, and ice creams to keep your body cool because Korean summers are very humid and sticky. Instead of freezing your buns off , you will be laughing back at yourself of your cold winter months at your desk with no kids. Good luck!

 

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Situation C: My entertainment on my walk back to my apartment

You can find more about how I spent my days desk warming here.