Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Year in Review

My year in a nutshell:

A year ago I was on a plane, heading to all the unknown that Thailand had to offer me. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would experience so many amazing things in one short year. Living, eating, breathing Thai culture. Teaching 36 Thai students, learning enough language to survive, embracing the motorbike without using a helmet, and exploring Thailand from north to south. Taking in the peacefulness of Loi Krathong, riding an elephant in the luscious Thai jungle, scuba diving the waters of Koh Tao, trekking through a wildlife preserve, and the list goes on.

Then came a whirlwind of a backpacking adventure. Cambodia: A Great Wonder of the World in Siem Reap, the most beautiful and remote beach I will ever see in Koh Rong, a heavy heart learning about a recent genocide in Phnom Pehn. Vietnam: The hustle and bustle and Vietnam War history in Ho Chi Mihn City, hiking the Himalaya Mountains and rice terraces in Sapa, calm water kayaking and giant islands in Ha Long Bay. Back to Thailand: Partying, temples, custom-made suits, more partying and fun in the sun with a long-time friend from home. Singapore: A cousin, cleanliness, toilets that flush, and the most modern place I'd seen in six months.

Off to London it was to stay with my best friend, Kristen, for a month. One of my old favorite places in the world with one of my favorite people. Catching up on tv, browsing jobs back home, meeting new faces, and seeing old friends. I was honestly mostly lazy but after backpacking for a month, I needed it. Lots of Indian food and lots of Hyde Park. I then had a frenzie reunion for a week where I became unlazy and enjoyed exploring London with four of the people who I had missed laughing with the most in the past six months.

I was abroad for seven months total, and boy did that time fly by so quickly. As soon as I got back to Hudson, it was clear to me that I wouldn't be finding teaching jobs available, and I also quickly became restless. I had just been on such an amazing adventure and I was already itching for something new. I got offered the job in Arizona and I am happy to be here starting a new adventure.

When looking for places to move, Arizona happened to be perfect. My cousin Mandy hooked me up with my interview at her charter school. I got offered the job over the phone and basically decided within two days that I would be moving. I was doing a leave position at Taconic Hills, which although my class was rough, I really truly did enjoy teaching where I had done student teaching three years prior.

The week before I left was filled with millions of errands, figuring out how to pack my car with clothing, shoes, and school supplies, and saying goodbyes for the second time in a year. The goodbyes never seem to get easier, but at least I am still in the country this time. We of course had a going away party. As my cousin Courtney put it, "I think you move just so you can throw parties." Yeah so, what if I do?!

Off my dad and I went on our short little road trip to Tempe, Arizona. We stopped in Louisville, Nashville, Dallas, and Albuquerque. Shoutout to Caitlin, Lincoln, and Susie for hosting us on our way!

I had little time to get acquainted with my new surroundings before I began two weeks of training. Two weeks to figure out what Burke Basic Charter School was all about. Come to find out, they are about practically nothing that I had ever been taught at home. Not a horribly bad thing, but different. Old school. Like parts of curriculum from the early 1900's. It has been difficult to get used to but almost three months in and I've got a much better grasp on it.

Now, I can't imagine I'm the only first year teacher that this happens to but, for the first four weeks of school, I spent at least 12 hours a day in my classroom, plus stopping in on the weekends. I had papers to copy, papers to grade, curriculum to make myself understand, and a room to put together. Well, 12 weeks later, this still seems to be a vicious cycle. There are still papers to copy, still papers to grade, still a curriculum to understand, and still a room to put together. My mind is never at ease because there is always something else that could be done, but I'm finally forcing myself to go home before 4 as often as possible. For those of you who think teachers are overpaid and get too much time off, you're wrong. We work hard and we deserve it.

Any time I feel like I want to toss my papers in the air in anger, I think of things that I know I'm making a difference with. My student demographic is low socio-economic status and Mexican. They don't have the greatest home lives, so I know that these kids love coming to school and they love learning. I also think about how even when I have had it up to here with the chatter, something hysterical happens and I completely lose it.

For example, there was the cockroach incident. My first live cockroach. Ever. Mid-phonics lesson, one girl stood up on her chair, screamed COCKROACH!, and ran to the back of the room. With obvious horror, I saw that I was right in its path, and I too started screaming, running towards the door. As we all huddled scream-laughing together, two brave boys walked right over to it, stomped on it, and picked it up with a paper towel. Piece of cake. I wish I could have seen myself on video.

I have a sweetheart student who also happens to be completely blunt, not ever trying to be rude. He told me the other day out of nowhere that I needed to lose weight in my legs, but with a big smile on his face. I looked at him, started laughing (but kind of wanting to cry) and asked why he said that. I don't think he knew how to answer so I did for him, "Are my pants too tight?!" I still haven't gotten an answer for that one, but he has now motivated me to work out. Thanks, Francisco. Oh, and when I got a cold this week he was also the one to tell me "Ms. K, you don't look too good."

So, there wraps it up. I couldn't have asked for a more exciting, exhausting, eye-opening, adventurous, and precious year. I doubt that my next year will even slightly compare to the last, but here's to hoping!

Sunday, June 1, 2014


How does a person know where they are supposed to be? Where should you go to college? Where should you find a job? Where should you settle down? These are questions that I've been thinking about a lot since going to Thailand. 

I get nervous thinking about where I will be in ten years. Many people my age may automatically think, I will be right where I am at this moment, only with a husband and two kids (Not that there is a problem with this. I look to my parents as having an ideal situation. They have been together since college and I am thankful to have Claverack be the place I will always call home. And thankful that I still have a bed there to sleep on when I'm in between moves.) As much as I would love to say that myself, I don't seem to have a here. I've moved around so many times since leaving for college, and I love every place that I've been for different reasons. I have always sworn that if I find the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, I would be willing to make my here be wherever he is. Not having a significant other makes this a bit difficult though. I can't seem to picture myself anywhere (or I can see myself living everywhere).

The next best thing after a boyfriend is a job (right?). As long as I find a city to teach in that I love, I will stay. I want desperately to be a teacher. I am fortunate enough to have had people push for me to get a leave position at Taconic Hills. As lucky as I am to be finishing the school year with these fourth graders, it will inevitably end at the end of June. I have been applying for job after job after job since March for the 2014-2015 school year, and unfortunately, it looks like I have slim chances of finding anything in New York. Outside of New York, I have applied in Massachusetts, Arizona, DC, and North Carolina. All mostly random places, but I have no concept of where I might be happiest. Ideally, I'd love to stay in New York, but I can't picture myself staying here without having my own classroom. I'm afraid that substitute teaching would wear me out and discourage me from the profession. So, it is again time to move on. I have accepted a third grade teaching position in Mesa, Arizona and I will be road tripping there in the middle of July. My cousin Mandy works at this school, and she has slowly been talking me into wanting to go there for a while now. All I hear are good things about Arizona, and it is guaranteeing me my own classroom. I can't really justify staying here, getting little experience, when I can move to an amazing state and put my teaching skills to good use. Do I want to come back to New York eventually? Of course. But can I fly home whenever I want? Of course. And do I want lots of visitors? Of course (the Superbowl is in Phoenix next year, wink, wink).

Am I meant to be in Arizona? Who knows! What I do know is that this is the move I need to make right now for me and my career.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Songkran Sendoff

I left Jimmy in Singapore and journeyed back to Thailand. I had a super nice Best Western booked for my last two nights in Bangkok. I had nothing planned but to repack, lay by the pool, read, and write, and that's exactly what I did. I also FaceTimed with my mom for two hours. I can't believe my parents will be picking me up from JFK in four weeks!

Although I had plenty of time to venture out into Bangkok one last time, I decided not to. My last two weeks of traveling had gone flawlessly and I didn't want anything to go wrong to put a damper on my last impression of Thailand. Another reason I decided against leaving: Songkran. Songkran is the celebration of the Thai New Year. This three day celebration (six days in some parts of the country) is basically one huge water fight. Thai people (and foreigners who join in) roam the streets with water guns, buckets of water, and hoses, soaking anyone and everything in sight. They also carry around beige talc mixed with water that gets smeared on random street dwellers with intentions to bless them in the New Year. Normally, I'd be really into this, but I was alone and afraid for my belongings. Anyone is fair game during Songkran, so I sadly skipped going into Bangkok.

Being one who likes snacks available at all times, I decided to walk about four minutes to 7-11 to pick things up for my flight. Even though I was positive nothing would happen, I prepared. I took my wallet, left my phone in the room, and put on old gym clothes. I was safe on my way to 7-11, but on the walk back, a truck pulled over ahead of me. Crap. The bed of the truck was full of Thai people with a big bucket in between them. They were coming for me and all I could do was embrace it. Two men came over to me; one with a bucket of water, one with a bucket of talc, both with enormous smiles. I could tell they were being a bit cautious, but when I yelled SONGKRAN! they let the water pour (being careful not to get my wallet, how nice of them). Water ran down my head, chest, and back, followed by the smearing of talc all over any exposed skin from the neck up. I could tell how pleased they were that I was such a good sport. When they were pleased with their work, we tried to have a conversation but the language barrier was up between me and everyone in the truck. Obviously not getting too far with that, they thanked me and let me on my way.

I walked into my hotel lobby drenched, pale-faced, and smiling from ear to ear. Everyone in the lobby joined in my laughter and one of the Thai bell boys said Songkran got you! It was all in great fun and it was honestly the perfect experience to end my time here. It will always remind me that Thailand really is the 'land of smiles.'

Never did I have a desire to go to Asia, and now I'm finding it extremely difficult to say goodbye. I am a very, very lucky person to have gotten an opportunity to teach here, to have my first backpacking experience, and to explore five countries and all the beauty they have to offer. I'm even luckier to be able to stay with one of my best friends in London for a bit before it's back to the real world. Thailand, you've been good to me and I hope to be back sooner than later, but it's finally time to give my hair a break from the humidity! Kristen, I'm coming for you and America, you're close behind!!


Backpacking pros:

-Time to read new books. I can't wait to read Gone Girl! (After two pages) Oh whoops I already read it.

-Running into old friends along the way. Being reunited requires a celebratory drink, right?

-Meeting new friends. 

-Doing things people dream about. Scuba diving in Cambodia, biking Angkor Wat, crawling through Vietcong tunnels, and kayaking in Ha Long Bay.

-Seeing so many of these places in a small amount of time. All of the above done in 20 days.

-Whether it was pointing us in the right direction, taking us somewhere, or helping with a problem, I've met far more good people than bad.

-Little to no shopping. Tell me I can't buy this because I can't fit it in my bag.

-You gain independence.

-Make your own schedule. Eat, sleep, and sight see at your own flexible pace.

-Time to grow. Traveling gives you heaps of time to think, to reflect, and to learn about yourself. You grow in a way you might not even realize and you learn how much you are capable of achieving.

Backpacking cons:

-Dorm life (if on a budget). In my opinion, dorms are okay for a weekend, but staying in dorms consecutively makes you miss your own space. Forewarning to strangers: I'm waking up at 5 AM so I'm apologizing ahead of time if I wake you up.

-Safety and security. Stop it right now, my laptop is gone.

-Transportation. You just cannot control it. If I was driving I'd be there in 2 hours not 4.5.

-People try to take advantage of the tourist, but that happens on any vacation I suppose.

-Backpacks are heavy.

-Chances are you'll be on a constant budget. Should we really have a beer or do we want to eat breakfast in the morning?

-Clothes are worn again and again and you have limited choice in clothing, especially if you are traveling for a long period of time.

-You will unpack and repack every day. Of course the shirt I want to wear is at the bottom of my backpack.

-What kind of bathroom will you end up with? Guys!!!! We have toilet paper!!!!

-Currency change in each country. I just got 4,000,000 dong! What, I'm not a millionaire?

Backpacking may not be for everyone, but it is something I suggest to do at some point if the time and funds are found. These points are completely biased on my experiences, but I believe they are general positives and negatives that come with the territory. Happy travels!


The decision to go to Singapore was pretty last minute. I knew I had some extra time before London and I would be alone, so why not go see a familiar face in nearby Singapore? Jimmy and I actually are family, contrary to popular belief! My dad and his mom are cousins which makes us second cousins, so it was even better to visit with family!

When I first got to Jimmy's place, he had to go back to work for a few hours which gave me the perfect time to recover from my week with Jordan. I did laundry and slept for a couple of hours. Jimmy picked me up around seven, and we headed toward Marina Bay. We walked around for quite a bit, and I immediately saw how beautiful this country is. Jimmy took me for late night snacks at Newton Plaza for fried rice, sting ray, mussels, and sweet and sour chicken. It was my first time ever having sting ray, and I hate to say it was pretty good.

I must have been exhausted, as the next day I slept until 12:30, a rare occurence. We took the MRT (subway service) to Orchard Road, walked around a bit more, and went to the Marina Bay Sands Sky Bar for happy hour. One beer here was 17 Singapore Dollars, or $15. Similar to the sky bar in Bangkok, this was pretty pricey, but then again all of Singapore is expensive. It was an unfortunately hazy day so the view wasn't great, but it was still cool to see the city from above!

That same night, we went to Jimmy's friend Albert's place. Albert and his girlfriend are from Spain and were some of the friendliest people I have met along my way. After some beers and tequila, we went out to a club named Kyo, where their friend was DJing. Kyo also had $5 drinks until midnight, so we surely stocked up and played beer pong!

Jimmy had all intentions of taking me to Sentosa that next day, but neither of us were feeling even 40%. Sentosa is an island resort that has a sand-less beach and Universal Studios Singapore. I didn't feel like I had to go there because I had heard from many people that it is nothing special. Instead, we had a lazy day and finished with a feast in Chinatown for dinner.

My last day in Singapore I was on my own. I took the MRT (which is incredibly easy to navigate) to the Botanic Gardens. These gardens are filled with plants native to Southeast Asia. I spent a couple of hours there and set off toward Orchard Road with the intention to go shopping, and shop is what I did. Besides souvenir shopping, I haven't bought a thing for myself since October, so I thought a small spree was deserved. I did some damage at H and M, and when I accidentally stumbled upon Forever 21, I literally had tears in my eyes. I did more damage.

Singapore is in no means a place for the budget traveler, but is definitely a place I'd pick to live if I were to move to this side of the world again. It is beautiful, extremely clean, and very modern. Singapore has incredibly strict laws, hence the cleanliness. One time on the MRT, I took a sip of my Vitamin Water. Jimmy quickly told me not to drink anymore and pointed at a sign. $500 fine for eating or drinking on the MRT. No eating or drinking on public transportation?! Sounds ridiculous, but as I looked around no one was and the subway was spotless. I'm a large fan of this country and hope to spend more time there in the future (when not on such a budget).

A Bro in Thailand

Ahh the joys of flying. How much easier it is to take a two hour flight than a 12 hour bus ride! I said goodbye to Amelia, Mikaela, and Brittany at different times. I was sad to leave them, but had a happy heart knowing that these will be lifelong friends who I will see back home.

Never did I think I would be so happy to get back to Thailand. After the ups and downs of traveling there, I was shocked that I wanted to kiss the ground at BKK. My happiness was solidified when I ate dinner at a small cafe. I was the sole customer and the Thai owner played me American songs on his guitar for over an hour. Much appreciated. I picked Jordan up at the airport at 11:30 PM and he was so excited that we just stayed up discussing Thailand for hours. With him here, my travels finally felt like a vacation!

Jordan and I started in Bangkok. We got a tuk tuk for the day, saw a couple of temples, Wat Pho included, and then made our way to a tailor shop that a Thai man highly suggested. Of course the tuk tuk driver got commission if he brought tourists there and of course Jordan got talked into buying two custom-made suits. They should be arriving to New York shortly! As we were driving around the city, it made me so happy to see how giddy Jordan was. He quickly fell for the country that I am so dearly fond of.

That day, we checked into The Warehouse Bangkok, a hip new hotel that was very accommodating. First thing on the list that night, the setting of The Hangover: Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower. I have to admit I had some doubts about going there, but those doubts were immediately put to rest as soon as we stepped out of the elevator onto the 64th floor. The view of Bangkok was amazing, looking up at the golden dome was unreal, and the taste of Jack Daniels was just what I needed. Although the drinks are MUCH pricier than I've been used to in Thailand ($16 for a Jack and coke), I was ready for the splurge. You actually can go up there without buying anything, which is great that the hotel doesn't charge a fee. After meeting two girls from the UK, the four of us headed to Khoa San Road, Bangkok's hub for Westerners and backpackers. Jordan got his fill of scorpion, frogs, and insects, and we had an unintentional, but very fun, night out.

At the airport the next morning, I had McDonalds for breakfast, the first fast food I've had in SE Asia (pat on the back). The Hangover cure. Next stop was Phuket, a well known and touristy island in Thailand. Our hotel, Amata Resort, was enormous and beautiful. First thing on the to-do list in Phuket: get Jordan a bamboo tattoo at Siam Ink. The tattoo came out so nicely and will be one that always reminds Jordan of how amazing this trip was :) I was very tempted to get one myself, but I decided to hold off. You're welcome mom and dad. That same night we went to a Muay Thai fight at Patong Boxing Stadium. Some fights are staged, but at this gym it's the real thing. We saw multiple knock-outs and for 1,300 baht and six fights, it was worth it.

The next day we took a day trip to Maya Bay and Koh Phi Phi. Maya Bay is where The Beach was filmed and it was jam packed. Our boat stopped far away from the beach with intentions for the passengers to snorkel for an hour. Jordan and I decided we wanted pictures on Maya Bay. We swam there and back and it was an extremely difficult swim amongst all the boats driving past. Was it worth the swim and three pictures? Probably not, but at least we got a solid workout. We made a stop to Koh Phi Phi for a couple of hours and Jordan got some major sun poisoning. Red from head to toe.

I planned a day for Jordan to ride elephants. Since I had already done so in December, I opted out and sent him out alone. I'm pretty sure this was his best day and I'm glad he got to go. While he did that, I enjoyed a beer at an Irish Pub and got a pedicure! By this point, I was beginning to feel a bit traveled-out. A month of traveling was starting to wear me out! We planned on going out this night, but got distracted by a talented group of break dancers on Bangla Road. We ended up having drinks at a bar next to them and watched for two hours. Jordan did a trick and it made his life!

Off to Koh Lanta we went! I wanted to stay here one night because it is a much less touristy and more remote island. We stayed at the lovely Papillon Bungalows, a short walk from the deserted Phra Ae Beach. We layed, we swam, we collected seashells, we walked. It was a quiet refuge after Phuket. I put up a photo of seashells on Instagram that afternoon that said that I was in Koh Lanta. Technology is so interesting, as my friend Ally, who taught in Chon Buri, saw this and reached out. She was on the island alone, and the three of us met for dinner and drinks on the beach.

After only one night on Koh Lanta, Jordan and I set off on the ferry for Ao Nang, Krabi. Ao Nang reminds me a bit of Ocean City. It's a cute little beach town with amazing beaches so close by. I did a big splurge for our last place. Ao Nang Cliff Beach Resort. The most beautiful view and room. There was a jacuzzi on the balcony, a gorgeous view of the gigantic limestone cliffs, and a refreshing pool. We took a long tail boat to Railay Beach. I heard and read nothing but great things about this beach, and it exceeded my expectations! There were limestone cliffs on either side of us and the beach had only a handful of people when we arrived. It was a relaxing morning, especially with the foot scrub and aloe massage that we got in the shade.

Because we had three beds in our hotel room, I suggested that Ally stay with us on our last night, and I'm glad she did! The three of us went to Crazy Gringos for 50 baht tequila shots ($1.50) and 120 baht passion fruit margaritas ($3.60). It was a great last night with Jordan and I was sad to leave him at the airport the next day!

Since this was Jordan's first time in this part of the world, I'm going to have him write his own post. His experience was much different than mine and he'll have more of a tourist view! I know how much he loved the country and I'm happy for him to share!