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15 posts categorized "*Pre-departure tips"

Courtney's View #6: Rock the Lonely Planet Book Often


One thing that is enhancing my travel experience is research. I noticed that ignorance can sometimes breed pessimism and confusion. For me, my longterm travel experience has become more fun once I turn an observant and curious eye upon my surroundings. The Lonely Planet book that CIEE gave us all is great place to start! Reading it while you're in the thick of Thailand sheds so much light and gives to-the-point commentary. Re-visiting the information as you're surrounded by it makes everything hop off the page as it dovetails with your own experience. It explains so much of the country's inner-workings. Researching has allowed me to simply observe and identify and understand. Often, things I thought were very strange suddenly make a lot of sense! My people watching game is on fire because of it. I highly recommend the "Understand Thailand" section in the back of Lonely Planet Thailand guide.

Among the fun things you will find:

- No, you're students aren't being mean when they laugh every single class as you butcher their name, they're helping you save face.

- Yes, that kid is named "Phone" after an actual phone.

- No, the students aren't showing zilch initiative because they suck, it's because they're specifically taught to not be assertive in the presence of a Poo Yai (an elder).

- That dump truck is painted crazy awesome to ward of bad luck!

- Thai men can enter a temple (take up robe and bowl) for as short as a week to gain the high respect afforded monks.



Courtney's View #3: Make a Curious Leap

I realized I was going to travel when, during an early morning shift at the coffee shop, my friend flung out a wildly broad question, “What are you going to do now?”

As a playful act of improvisation, I replied, “I’m going to walk amongst the fjords of Norway, then the mushy green hills of Ireland and then I will purvey the glitz and poshness of London….uhhhh then I’m going to work on a farm or teach English or something.”

“Cool!”, my friend said.

“Yeah…yeah, that’s what I’ll do!”

My decision to teach English abroad was fueled by great personal stagnancy. Basically, I knew that I had to do something, anything to stir things up. I wanted to practice self-confidence, recognize my potential and feel excited about life. So, I made a Classic Big Leap.

First, I signed up for my dream trail race in Norway without a plan or a plane ticket.

Then I was like, “Man, I really need a plan.”

Then my best friend Brant was like, “Here, read this book called Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.”

So I read that and was like, “Wow, I can travel sustainably! You wanna come with me?”

Best friend Brant said, “Uh…..(few days pass)….Sure!!”

Then I became We. We decided that to achieve the wholesome travel experience we wanted, we had to find a job abroad. Enter CIEE. We applied, sold a bunch of stuff, quit our jobs, and left the U.S.A.

I am coming to think that when a person feels severely stagnant in their life, any Curious Leap will benefit them. Though my Classic Big Leap story isn’t over, I’m thinking that coming to Thailand to teach English was a really effective decision. I am alive with purpose. I am gaining a real skill. When I go to the classroom, I step into a self-confidence I never had before. 40 pairs of staring eyes will encourage this if only as the most direct route to self preservation.

If you are looking for inspiration, the ideas of the people below have truly helped me to find freshness and courage. Check it out.

Hunter S. Thompson's Letter to a Friend

Time=Wealth - Rolf Potts or if you have more time: Tim Ferriss Show with Rolf Potts

The Minimalists

Below: At Tromso Skyrace in Norway. Brant and I wowed to be in London. Experiencing the best coffee of my life from a hill tribe in Chiang Mai.



Courtney's View #2: Pinned & Squirming

The wonderful hotel I’m staying at while I get my Non B Visa provides free breakfast. It’s not your average continental breakfast of Ho-hos and Ding Dongs. There’s a big pan of fried rice, plates of papaya and dragon fruit, pancakes, eggs, cucumbers, shredded carrots, and small sausages. There’s even a coffee maker that spits out Americanos which I return to in a sneaky tip-toe three or four times a morning. I go noticed 100% of the time.

The employees are very kind and helpful. One might say that they are unwavering and ever present in these respects. They are instantly available to get you a plate and gesture at the buffet. They are the quiet, smiling sentinels of breakfast.

My wallflowerishness sadly makes me unappreciative of this immaculate watchfulness. To me it just equals intentional, paid staring. As I approach the buffet, I feel a cruel combination of skittishness and hunger. I try to move along the buffet in a way that conceals the quantities of food I’m taking. I’m not sure what is acceptable and I don’t want to be disgustedly judged. The water glasses are rather small and I’m thirsty so I loiter by the drinks and down three waters in a row. The concierge stands steady, watching. A bug manages to fly into my fourth glass. The concierge stares. I want to fish out the bug but he’s watching. I don’t want to look even more slobbish. I drink the bug with a twitchy swallow.

Hastily, I walk to my table with a plate of pancakes and a bowl of fruit. Blast, I forgot to put syrup on my pancakes. I dread returning to the surveilled buffet to get the syrup. Surely, I will look like a fool. I will have to wait at least 15 minutes to avoid this, hopefully enough time for the concierge to have forgotten my stumbling performance. Wait I do. With my perceived clean slate, I assume a casual air as my curiously still-existing pancakes accompany me back to their mecca. The concierge raises his eyebrows. I slouch a little and spoon my syrup. He must have thought I took my pancakes for a walk to gently break the news that they’d be eaten and inquire about their last wishes. Oh you’d like Syrup to accompany you to the Grey Havens? As you wish. 

When I return to my room, I flop face down on to the cloud-like bed in a despondent heap, run through by the force of a thousand imagined judgements.                                                                                                             


.... P.S. If you want to avoid major Visa stress, do as CIEE recommends and don't travel before the teaching program starts! I was stuck in Vientiane, Laos for almost 3 weeks and came out of it with a big fat "VOID WITHOUT PREDJUDICE" stamp in my passport and no Visa. I had to travel back to Laos to try again and was thankfully successful! If you do travel beforehand, Savannakhet, Laos is the absolute best place to get your Non B Visa. There was a total of 20 people getting processed on the day I went, as opposed to nearly 1000 in Vientiane. That being said, I loved traveling beforehand and would do it again - I just underestimated the Visa scene!

Below: A picture of me over-thinking stuff and knowing it. 


Courtney's View #1: The Big Fat Reality Check

Until I came to Thailand, I was living in a hip-college-mountain-town in Colorado. The town is full of Trustafarians who wear those ruggish, biblical ponchos that are meant to signify enlightenment. Perhaps my college can owe it's 1988 accusation by USA Today of being "the worst dressed" town in America to these types. My town is full of world class mountain runners, kayakers, mountain bikers, and skiers. There are many organic food stores and much environmental awareness. People wear lots of Patagonia and rock that classy sandal-sock combination with $100 Chacos, the finest and most durable of sandals. What I'm trying to say is that my town houses a distinctly earthy yet privileged population and I am very aware of this. 

I’ve been in Thailand for 4 months now. As for any Westerner, there many new things both shocking and delightful I've gotten to get accquainted with:

-a high power distance culture

-seeing an average of 3 helmet-less 2 year olds per sputtering moped

-a general lack of catalytic converters on vehicles

-a pacifist yet intensely opportunist driving culture that is very fascinating

-the delights of spicy food

-multitudes of garbage fires containing burning plastic

-legions of street dogs and cats

-groups of orange robed monks walking the streets for alms every morning

Coming from my super PC and health obsessed town, all of these things elicit a confusing array of responses like, "Wow! What's that? What's this? WOW! Yum! Oh no! huh? Eeek! Uggh. Ooo shiny! Oh dear. Tasty! But how? quick-hold-yer-breath!"

For me, there is a lot of learning to be done. I have diva-ishly sought out "staples" like nutritional yeast, organic shampoo, real coffee (as opposed to instant), single track running trails, and mexican food. With a little effort, some of these things can be found, but I am forced to shrug my shoulders for many others. My apartment has no sinks, just faucets sticking rustily out of the wall. It appears that my water source is a big cement tank that I have seen some questionable items floating in. My backyard features a wonderful sewage ditch that wafts fragrantly through my apartment. I call it the "spicy Thai breeze". Enter water filters, bleach, candles, and a super-chill mind. This lack of many things I consider "staples" of my life has been a big fat reality check that makes me wonder if I have "Privileged" written 100 times on my face.

What I'm learning is that travel is probably the best teacher of open mindedness. I have always considered myself to be broad minded but that's an easy label to give myself when I'm back at home comfortably sipping on a green juice and watching a peloton of $10,000 bikes whiz by before comfortably walking to my comfortable job where I comfortably communicate AND relate to nearly every person I encounter. Discomfort is what tests me. Travel often gives the gift of wider contemplation through the deprivation of comforts I take for granted. 

My goal for my stay in Thailand is to not only be grateful for the comforts I've previously had, but to truly take joy in what Thailand has to offer. This might be genuinely looking forward to a cup of instant coffee, really getting to know my students and fellow teachers, and reforming to the simplicity of no furniture and living from the contents of a carry-on size bag. 


Below: Taking time to serenade our favorite street kitty Jacqueen.


Below: Moped specimen.



What to Expect?

Welcome to Thailand aka the “Land of Smiles.” The country where the people are lovely, the food is spicy, and the temperature is hot; and, in addition have beautiful landscapes, very clear waters and amazing food.

Figuring out what to pack for the next year of your life, experiencing culture shock, and being homesick is everything I went through in the past 2 weeks. Let's start with the preparation for Thailand.

I started gathering all my supplies to pack (medicine, shampoo, conditioner, contacts, clothing, face wash, ect) the weekend before I left. I made sure I had enough products for 6 months and contacts for a year because I was told that getting these products in Thailand would be hard to do. When I arrived I was able to find the same brand products that I use at home (Pantene, L’Oreal, and Tresemme) were just a few of them that I was bale to find. There are some brands that I have seen in the US that I haven’t really seen in Thailand yet (Ogx and Aussie) for example. I have found some face wash as well just not the type I use so I am grateful that I have the 6-month supply I had. I wish I had known I would have been able to find some of these products before I packed them all because my suitcases would have been lighter. Oh well, I now have room for souvenirs to bring back home with me. Packing was hard because what do you pack for the next year of your life, how much clothes, how many shoes, what other supplies do you bring. I packed more to be on the safe side because I have never been to Thailand before and did not know what to expect. Learn from me and pack a little less. If you are coming to teach, like I am, than I would recommend:

                        Skirts: 4/5

                        Dresses: 2/3

                        Blouses: 4/5

                        Polo Shirts with a collar: 3/4

                        T-Shirts: 4/5

                        Shorts: 3/4

                        Shoes: 2/3 Flats, 1 Sneaker/Hiking Shoe, 1 Sandal, 1 Flip-flop

                        Sweater (A lot of places have AC): 1/2

Each person packs differently based on things that they like and what they want to wear. Make sure you are comfortable, happy, and look professional. Remember you can buy elephant pants for cheap in Thailand, esp in Bangkok. If you are tall or overweight at all than you might have more difficult with what you find in regard to clothing.

Once you arrive in this beautiful country you will be hit with a wave a heat and hear people speaking a language that you do not understand. It will be okay everyone understands miming and pointing, Google Translator will also be your best friend. You will be experiencing a lot of new foods that you can’t pronounce and hear a bunch of people talking in a foreign language around you, this can be overwhelming for anyone, I know I was super overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed by new experiences and new foods made me miss being home and being able to order anything without having any difficulties. The first week in Thailand was hard for me, I was calling home almost everyday and I cried a few times when things got hard. I was afraid of what I just got myself into. I could not understand the language, I had no idea how to teach, and orientation was throwing a lot at me, all useful and helpful but a lot. I was so nervous, overwhelmed, anxious, and homesick that I barley anything for the first few days I was in Thailand. If you are planning on coming to teach in a foreign country or just arrived in a foreign country to teach you might experience what I went through and that is normal and okay because remember YOU ARE HUMAN AND HAVE FEELINGS!!! There are a few ways to help combat these feeling and go from anxious, nervous, and homesick to happy and excited.

At orientation one of the group leaders experienced the same thing I was feeling and she helped me by just listening to what I was saying and telling me some of her experiences. So, make sure you talk to someone a parent, a new friend, or someone at orientation but make sure you talk to someone because they might be feeling the same thing, know how you are feeling, and can help make you feel better. I know talking about what I was feeling helped me feel better, calmer, and ready to tack this experience.

Another thing to do is keep busy; do not wallow. When you wallow it is all you are thinking about but if you stay busy, join people on adventures around the city, hang out by the pool, read, or go for a run you are focusing on something else and before you know it things will get easier for you. When I arrived at my location I only spent time in my apartment to put my clothes away or make lesson plans otherwise I went out and explored, walked around, kept busy, and get situated into my new accommodations.

I have been teaching for 3 days already and do not regret my choice to move to Thailand for the next year. This adventure will be full of new experiences, people, and food. Even through I spent the first week feeling overwhelmed, homesick, anxious, and nervous once I saw the kids I am teaching and was greeted by their smiles it all felt better. I know this will be a challenge; it is a challenge that I am ready to tackle head on.

Remember: pack light, you will be able to find things here, it is okay to miss home just make sure you talk about how you feel and not bottle it up, and enjoy!! :) 

The One With The Pre-Departure Freak Out

  Can we all agree that this entire situation is insane? I mean I just finished packing two bags that are full of everything I THINK I may need for six months in a country I have never been to; and today I'm leaving all my friends and family for half a year- if that's not insane I'm not sure what is. 

    Here's my thing about insane plans and ideas, so far in my life they have rarely led me astray. Of course in college or high school some insane ideas led to questionable outcomes but even those I don't really regret. Teaching abroad in Thailand will absolutely be an insane idea I talk about for the rest of my life. 

    The pre-departure jitters kicked in about 72hrs ago when I realized "holy crap I have to say goodbye to my parents and brother and boyfriend and friends for six months and when I get back things may have changed and I have to be okay with that..." That's a really tough pill to swallow but so far every single one of those people have done nothing but encourage, support and love me through the process of saying goodbye and getting on each mode of transportation that will take me to this next chapter in my life. 

    This is basically just a "welcome to my blog, I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing but I'm really excited and hope you'll follow along" post. I haven't slept yet in an effort to sleep on the plane as much as possible to make the trip feel shorter so forgive me if it sounds delusional, hopefully this is one of those things that will get better with time. Bear with me. 

    After taking the train from Albany to Yonkers, staying up all night and going slightly insane the last few days... it is finally time to head to the airport and catch a flight to Bangkok! Let the adventure begin!

    IMG_4890 (1)

Pre-departure: Existential Constipation

    Now that I’ve got your attention – My name is Darrah, and I’m severely backed up. Emotionally, that is. In less than 48 hours I am preparing to up-end my life, move to rural Eastern Thailand, and try my hand at teaching (math and English) for the first time. Almost every factor of my sojourn is a looming question mark. What my day-to-day schedule, attempted cultural assimilation, and social interactions will look like is all but conjecture. Yet still, when I wake up in the morning, and my thoughts inevitably flit towards my impending departure, I’m not pondering these gaping informational holes and existential musings. Instead, I find myself wondering: what if I miss season two of stranger things? What if I buy too many tchotchkes and my suitcase overflows? Will I find a brand of shampoo I like? Though it’s apparent I’m already getting at the hard-hitting stuff with this internal interrogation, it’s not characteristic of me to be intimidated by the unfamiliar. I’m trying to be kind with myself, patient, so I’ve been attempting to cure this expressive constipation with some emotional cataloging. I’ve been hesitant to express the extent of my nerves because I’ve tried so hard to make “fearless adventurer” part of my brand. By avoiding the larger questions and anxieties at play, however, I’m not showing courage, I’m losing touch with the opportunities ahead. I’m beginning to realize that though loved ones have always commended me for my comfort in the unknown, perhaps it was never comfort at all. Perhaps they were seeing an obsession with making the unknown, known. And with that – the proverbial blockage had been cleared and the impending emotional shit storm had been warded off! (Am I allowed to say shit in an official CIEE blog post?) I’ve since been able to harness my nerves as a motivator to do my research, thoroughly pack and prepare, and revel in the feeling of standing at the edge a brand new void - an opportunity that few of the untethered among us ever have a chance to experience.

    Since I’ve lost my entire readership with a y chromosome thanks to that emotional cataloging stunt, I’m going to go ahead finish this first post with a quote that’s really been resonating with me. “In the struggle between yourself and the world, choose the world”, now I won’t try and interpret what Kafka meant here because it is undoubtedly far beyond the reaches of my pea brain. For me, the comfort in this quote lies in the reminder that pushing one’s comfort zone doesn’t have to put you at odds with the world, and in many ways, it might just bring you a whole lot closer to it. So to those at similar life junctures: don’t be afraid to look out into the void. Don’t shy away from the unknown; rather, seek to know it. It is terrifying, exhilarating, and in all likelihood, about to lead to some insane adventures and irreplaceable memories. Whether you’re a traveler, starting a new job, trying to meet new people, or are just a 22 year old that still has to make poop jokes to feel comfortable discussing feelings – don’t fear, fear!

Sand In Our Hair

About 6 weeks ago, I pulled a bonehead move and booked the wrong flight for a long weekend to Chiang Mai. Since I couldn't get a refund, I just rerouted my flight for a different weekend. The weekend finally came and I was on my way to Phuket. 

After sleeping in the airport to catch our 7am flight from Bangkok, we finally landed in Phuket around 8:15am. We were able to get a van directly to our hotel in Patong for 180 baht each. It was about an hour long ride from the airport to Sukcheewa Place (the hotel we were staying at). A private room with a double bed ran us 600 baht total. Man, was it worth it. It was a beautiful room with AC, hot water, free (amazing) breakfast, and very good location. 

Once we got to the hotel, we ate breakfast, changed into our bathing suits, and headed to a place called Freedom Beach. When we mapped it, it said it was only about 2 miles away. We didn't mind walking! After all, we had been sitting in airports for the past 12 hours. Little did we know, it was uphill the entire way. The majority of the journey was on a backroad with small houses few and far between. When we were about halfway up, a Thai man called out to us. He offered us a ride to the beach for 100 baht. At that point, we were so exhausted we decided to say yes. We started talking to the man, who also offered us bananas from his garden. His name was Yew. He went on and on about how badly he wants to visit America and how he would love to help us in any way that he can. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. 

After some time talking to Yew, he took us in his old truck to the entrance of Freedom Beach. Because it is a privately owned beach, we each had to pay 200 baht to go. It turns out that the 2 miles we walked uphill went back to sea level in about a half a mile; it was a walk straight downhill through the jungle. They even had a rope for us to hold on to so we didn't fall. 


The beach was gorgeous. Turquoise water and plush white sand with rocks and mountains surrounding it. 


One downside is that there weren't any chairs that you could rent like on other Thai beaches. So Deanna and I decided to lay down right in the surf. It was a good idea until sand got into my one piece. 

After about 3 hours, we decided to leave. 

When we passed Yew's house again, he gave us water and more bananas from his garden. We sat down for a good 30 minutes and talked to him about his life on Phuket. He even showed us his 7th place trophy from a race he ran the weekend before. He then drove us back to our hotel for 200 baht. 

After he dropped us off, he offered to take us to the airport the next day for 300 baht. We accepted. 

We then went back to our hotel room, rinsed the sand off, changed bathing suits, and headed to Patong Beach, only a 5 minute walk away (and luckily on flat ground). Unfortunately, the chair rental places were only open until 5pm so we only had an hour to enjoy them. We paid 100 baht and took full advantage of that hour. 

After returning to our hotel that night, we showered, napped, and then headed to dinner. After dinner, we went to Bangla Road, the road infamous in Phuket for its nightlife. We walked up and down the street and then headed back to the hotel. We were too tired and poor to completely enjoy it. 


The next morning, we woke up and enjoyed our free breakfast at the hotel. We then packed up our stuff, stored it in the lobby, and were on our way to Patong Beach. 

We found chairs a little further down the beach, away from all the people. We stayed at the beach playing in the ocean, basking in the sun, and enjoying some brews from 10:30 until 4pm. 


Towards the end of our day at the beach, we noticed something in the water. It was one of the young Thai men who rented the chairs to us playing in the ocean with either his little brother or his son. They were having so much fun together it made my heart melt with happiness. 

Later when we went into the ocean, the young man began talking to us about our time here. People here are so friendly and eager to learn about different cultures. It is such a refreshing feeling. 

We changed, picked up our stuff, and called Yew to head to the airport. 

We got back to Bangkok around 12:30pm. At that point, I went straight to the Ekkamai bus station to wait for the 4:30am van. I got back to my apartment around 6am to an ant infestation in my bathroom. I took care of that, took a shower, then went straight to school; it was back to reality. 

Want to see more pictures from my adventures abroad? Follow me on Instagram!


a comfort zone is a lovely place, but nothing ever grows there

I like to think that I have a really good intuition. 

Sometimes, I just get these ideas in my head and once the thought enters my mind, I find it really hard to let go of it. At first, the ideas were subtle changes I wanted to make..like I should die my hair blonde (shout out to my college roommate for talking me through my tears and dying my hair back brown with a box dye - you're the best), I should move to the Seacoast, or I should study abroad in Germany, and most recently, I should quit my full-time job and go teach English in Thailand. Clearly, the magnitude of the changes has varied over the years, but the results are always the same. Change is terrifying, exhilarating, nerve racking and wonderful all at once, and I can't get enough of it. 

Screenshot 2017-05-13 at 4.29.02 PM

If you're still reading this, my name is Alysha. Up until two weeks ago, I was an Assistant Store Manager for a grocery store chain in the Northeastern part of the United States called Hannaford (owned by Ahold-Delhaize for anyone out there in the grocery industry), and living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (picture snow and cold six months of the year). Now, I'm in sunny, sometimes swelteringly hot, Thailand, living in a coastal province in the Eastern region, where I'll be teaching English to 7th-9th graders.

Wait, I thought you just said you were a manager, not a teacher. And you would be correct in thinking that. The qualifications for teaching English in Thailand requires a Bachelor's Degree, and it does not have to be on with an education concentration. But, do you speak Thai? No, but I am trying like hell to learn. Props to an app called nemo Thai, I get daily notifications so that I can eventually say more than Sawatdee-kha and Khawb khun kha (Hello and Thank you). So how will you teach English if you don't speak the Thai? CIEE and OEG put together a week long orientation in Bangkok that kicked off my semester in Thailand! At orientation, I had classes on teaching English as a foreign language, Thai culture classes, language classes, etc.


We visited the Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha, Death Railway, and went on two beautiful river cruises. Best of all, I was surrounded by all these wonderful, beautiful people who signed up for the same program! We all went to our respective placements yesterday, and I'm already missing them like crazy. My official first day at my new school, Banchangkarnchanakulwittaya School, is Monday and while I'm sure there'll be bumps and bruises along the way, I simply can't wait. 

Sooo..if you're starting to think, hey, that sounds like a pretty amazing opportunity to travel, enrich your life, cultivate new skills and build new relationships..then well, you're right! Tell yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to, and start researching how you can move overseas and teach English! Or better yet, comment with any questions or hesitations you may have. Every day is a new chance to reinvent yourself.

Stay tuned for more.. 



Today's the day!

This is it: today is the day I finally depart for Thailand! For as long as I have been looking forward to this day, it really feels like it snuck up on me.  As gathering documents and obtaining my visa were acquired a few weeks prior, I spent the past week saying goodbye to friends and family as well preparing for the trip. I mostly just had to gather last minute essentials, teaching materials, and teaching clothes. I found it difficult to decide exactly what to pack, so after I am settled in for a few weeks and see for sure what I wish I had packed and what I could have gone without, I will post a definitive packing list as I would have found that helpful. Right now I’m sitting in the Philadelphia airport, waiting to board my 12.5 hour flight to Qatar and my 6.5 hour flight to Bangkok. My emotions are definitely heightened as I prepare to embark on this dream that I set my sights on a long time ago. As I try to navigate through exactly what I’m feeling, excitement undeniably sticks out the most. I am beyond grateful to be granted this opportunity and I am so looking forward to the amazing experience it is going to be. I know there will be challenges and adjustments made as well, but for now I choose to giddily await the adventure ahead!


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