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Living in the Big Apple

queens-ny

When you think of New York, what do you imagine? Skyscrapers? Times Square? Broadway shows?

Well, all those things do make up a big part of New York but when I think of NYC, the top things that comes to mind are smelly subways and loneliness.

As ironic as it sounds, NYC is an extremely lonely city.  Walking in the streets of NYC can be both a thrilling but depressing experience at the same time. Walking or running but mostly running to work, on these busy streets have made me realized that I’m just another person. 1 out of the other millions of other people commuting and rushing to work. If you take your eyes off of your phone, you see that people are so caught up in their own lives and that you and I simply don’t exist. We’re just another person taking up space in the already crowded city.

Don’t get me wrong, having been born and raised in NYC, I am grateful to have been born in such an amazing, diverse and cultured city. I am especially proud to be from Queens, NY.

I have a love-hate relationship with the city. And I think it’s very common for most New Yorkers to feel this way. Only a true New Yorker would really understand this feeling.

Why I love New York:

I love NY

Food/Cuisine:

New York City is one of the greatest food cities in the world! Not only can you find almost any type of food but also the BEST food. There are endless options and varieties to choose from when it comes to food. There are more than 20,000 restaurants in NYC alone!

Tourists need to spend more time in all the outer boroughs and not just Manhattan. That’s where all the best food is!

Diversity:

New York City is famous for its ethnic diversity and communities represent virtually every nation on earth!

Whether you’re taking a train ride or getting a cup of coffee, if you listen, you will notice that there are at least always 5+ different languages being spoken. I always joked around that my church congregation and college classes looked like the U.N and this is a pretty accurate description of how diverse NYC is.

Many people know about Manhattan or Brooklyn but usually do not know much about Queens. With more than 132 nationalities represented by its residents, Queens is, in fact, one of the most diverse places in the world. NYC is so much more than just Manhattan.

Culture/Nightlife/Things to do: It is almost impossible to be bored in this city. You can find almost everything and anything that you want to do. There are endless options of whatever you choose to do.
Especially in the summer, there are many free concerts that anyone can attend. There are also many free outdoor movies as well.
Whether you want to go to the American Ballet Theater, MoMa, Guggenheim or Lincoln Center, you will always find many varieties of things to do.
NYC is home to exceptional performing arts, museums and art galleries!

Why I don’t like New York:

I_hate_New_York

1) The crowded trains and long commute. According to the Daily News, it was shown that New Yorkers spend an average of 48 minutes commuting. New Yorkers also have the longest commute times in the U.S.

The trains are smelly, often delayed, and the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) keeps hiking up their prices!

NewYork-Diversity

2) Expensive everything.

Rent, food, clothes, drinks….everything.

Yes it is possible to find affordable places in NY but for the most part, everything is expensive.

The average rent for available apartments in New York City is now over $3,000!

New Yorkers always tell people that we live in a “closet.” And believe it or not, it’s almost actually true. A lot of New Yorkers pay a ludicrous amount of money to live in the west/east village, Manhattan to end up living in an apartment so small that you can barely breathe.

On the flipside, I’m so happy to be living in my parents spacious house in Queens.

Thank you God! At my age I’m quite embarrassed to still be living at home, but I’d rather pass on the $2,000+ rent for my TINY apartment.

Felice Cohen, 39, in her micro apartment

 3) Hustle and Bustle

NYC is an exciting city. But its frenetic buzz can be frightening for some people. It’s true that NYC is a hustle and bustle city. Also it’s a city where you have to work your ass off to make it here. NYC can eat you alive. Living and working in this city can also be very draining. The good thing is that many people say that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I’d have to agree.

NYC is truly a fantastic city. It’s not for everyone but everyone should visit this city at least once in their lifetime.

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Couchsurfing: Valuable, Dangerous or Useless?

https://i0.wp.com/www.couchsurfing.org/images/logo/high_res.jpg

For those of you who don’t know what Couchsurfing it, it’s a website that allows travelers to sleep on someones couch OR allows a host to provide a couch for travelers. Personally speaking, I have been both the host and surfer and from both ways, I’ve had enriching and valuable experiences. And of course, some bad experiences as well.

CS is also great because if you are new to a city, you can connect with other expats/travelers/locals. CS has a growing community. Everyone and anyone can participate in local events/parties/get-togethers.

With any website used for meeting people, of course, it can be dangerous as well. I like CS because it is mandatory for everyone to fill out a profile. It is known to most people on the website that if a person has very minimal information/pictures/references, it’s best not to contact them for a meet or to surf their couch. A profile with references seems to be the most important factor. References allows people to see if this person is liked/disliked/trusted by other people. These references can either be negative/positive/neutral. Also, if you are an active and trusted Couch Surfer, you can have a few people vouch for you. Your identity and location will also be verified.

Usually, there seems to be 3 different types of people on CS.

1) The creepy guy/girl who is usually on CS to hook-up with someone. You can usually find these people messaging random people asking them to “hang out”. Sometimes these people lurk around at local events.

2) The cheap back-packer who wants to stay at someones place when it’s convenient for them. Usually, these surfers will send you a very generic request.

3) Travelers/backpackers who really want to experience the life as a local and appreciates when a host allows strangers to stay at their place. This person usually comes to the hosts place with a small gift or takes the host out for a meal.

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with #1 and #2, but I’ve happened to meet too many of examples #1 & 2 instead of #3. CS is an amazing resource meant for locals and travelers to connect and to help each other. I really think that too many people are abusing this site and taking advantage of locals who are willing to help travelers.

When CS is used for the right purposes, it can be extremely helpful and useful.

 

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My first 4 couchsurfers that I’ve hosted in San Sebastian, Spain.

I had the privilege to live in The Basque Country for 5 months in 2011. During my last week in Spain, I decided to host 4 surfers in my cozy apartment. I had an extra room and my roommate also loved the idea.

The couch surfers were from Finland and Australia. It was really a great time and we all enjoyed each others company. The surfers made a great effort to mingle with locals and to learn about the Basque culture.

I am quite lucky to live in one of the greatest cities in the world. I’m proud to call New York my home. I use CS in New York as a resource to meet other locals and travelers. I’ve organized a few meet ups on CS and have had the chance to meet some of the most cultured and wonderful people.

I organized my first couch surfing get together in NYC.

CS 2

https://www.couchsurfing.org

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My Study Abroad in Spain with USAC

 

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When I talk to many of my friends whom have graduated, they usually say they regret one thing: The fact that they never got to study abroad. I wholeheartedly agree. I think that studying abroad during your studies is one of the best decisions you can make and the greatest life changing experience you can have.

The idea that I can combine my love for traveling, learn about different cultures, study at a prestigious university, meet people from all different parts of the world AND also earn credits for my studies is just _____. There isn’t even a single word I can think of to describe my excitement.

After speaking to my wonderful Advisor, she recommended that I study in San Sebastian, Spain. I told her that I wanted to go to a smaller city and somewhere where tourists were not taking over the city. I have never heard of this city until she recommended this city to me. The city is situated on the shores of the Bay of Biscay in the Basque region of Northern Spain.

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Me and my lovely friends. The beach behind us is the famous “Playa de la Concha” Absolutely stunning.

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Playa de La Concha Beach

sandwiches

It is very common to have a late night snack in Spain. Especially after going out to the discotecas/bars, it’s great to get bocadillos (Sandwiches)

txotx

Sidrerías/Sargardoas are very big in the Basque Country. It’s a lovely concept. You pay a flat fee and you can drink/eat as much as you want. The cider that I tasted was very unique. 

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donostia

Lucky me, this is when I revisited San Sebastian in February 2012 =)

Prior to my trip to Spain, I had to fill out an application form for my “desired roommates”. I wrote the typical, I would love a: non smoker/clean/studious/doesn’t like to throw crazy parties everyday/friendly kind of roommate.

I also wrote in bold letters, PLEASE no Americans. I know It may seem as if I am discriminating against them but I surely was not. My main reason to go to Spain was to practice and maintain my Spanish. I wrote that I preferred to live with locals, this way I thought I could practice my Spanish to its full potential.

When I arrived to my orientation in Spain, I realized that I wasn’t lucky enough to get paired with locals as my roommates but I was so fortunate to be paired with my two wonderful European roommates. We used to make rules like, the first person who speaks in English needs to put money in the coin jar, of course, that didn’t last.

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Left: My roommate and now best friend from Bulgaria.

Middle: Roommate from Sweden.

Right: Me being silly.

After graduating a year ago, I was caught in a rut. The question that so many of us have probably faced after graduation, now what? All I knew was that I didn’t want to settle for any job  just for the money but wanted to pursue something that I was passionate about. After not being able to find a promising job, I left New York and decided to be a part of a work exchange in Costa Rica. I wanted to travel and maintain my Spanish. Although my trip to Costa Rica seemed more like a vacation, it was still a learning experience. I came back refreshed and had a clear view about what I wanted to do with my life, which was to start a career in study abroad.

Now I am working as a Study Abroad Advisor in New York City. It is my third week as of now and there is still SO much to learn. Every time a student comes into the office, my heart stops! I get so excited and have an urge to ask about where they’re interested in studying/where they are going or about their trips abroad! Eek! But then I remind myself that I have to keep calm and act as a professional. This may be really hard to do, but I will try, haha.

Overall, I guess it is pretty obvious that I STRONGLY recommend studying abroad. Not only will this experience change your life but you will gain priceless life skills and meet some of the most wonderful people.
I know that money and fear are the biggest concerns. It is definitely not cheap to study abroad but it is definitely an investment. There are also many scholarships you can look into and student loans (I know it sucks but it’s SO worth it). And for the fear part, it is inevitable that anyone leaving their comfort zone will feel scared. But remember that there’s no way of overcoming your fear by not doing anything about it.

A link to checkout USAC

http://usac.unr.edu/study-abroad-programs/spain/san-sebastian

English: San Sebastian seen at night photograp...

English: San Sebastian seen at night photographed from Monte Urgull Deutsch: Sebastian bei Nacht, fotografiert von Monte Urgull Euskara: Donostiaren ikuspegia Urgull menditik Français : San Sebastian pendant la nuit, photo pris de Monte Urgull Italiano: Una panoramica notturna della città di San Sebastián (Paesi Baschi, Spagna) vista dalla cima del monte Urgull Nederlands: San Sebastian (Baskenland) bij nacht, gezien vanaf de heuvel Monte Urgull (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Are you a tourist or a traveler? Is there even a difference?

During my first travels/trips, I used to have expectations. Expectations that everything would be catered to me. And fear of leaving my comfort zone.

Oh, I’m going to France and I don’t speak any French but it’s ok because everyone will speak English. Or when something as common as utensils was something that was expected to be given to me at every meal. Or when I only wanted to discover what has already been discovered. And when I have been afraid to speak in the local language or to mingle with the locals.

Quoting from another blog,(wanderlustandlipstick.com)

“The tourist might get the basics down, see some sights, take a few pictures, and go home, experiencing only the surface of a country. A traveler goes deeper.”

A quote that sums up what many people refer to as the difference between the two types of people.

I partially did agree with this quote. When I thought of a tourist,  I would imagine someone with a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops. And someone who was obnoxious and only stayed within their own circle. I would then think of a traveler to be someone who could think outside the box and someone who was an expert at “traveling.” Not falling into the stereotypes of the typical “American Tourist.”

I don’t think that being a “traveler” should be glamorized and being a “tourist” is something to look down upon.

Fixed address or not, spontaneous or sticks to a set plan, adventurous or not a risk-taker, in the end we are all travelers and foreigners. I always have to remind myself that WE are all the foreigners to a non foreign land.  The country works to accommodate their people, not the travelers.

The label should not matter, it’s all a matter of how we choose to travel. There’s nothing wrong with spending your holidays just soaking up the sun and then going dancing at night or someone who prefers to take the road less traveled. Someone who wants to live like a local and prefers to not only refer to their guidebook but make their own discoveries and adventures.

Whichever way you choose to travel, labels should not matter. Make memories and travel without regrets.

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Don’t ask me for money because I just might give it to you

July.10,2009 more or less was the date when I experienced a tragic but funny experience.

Taxi drivers in Argentina are infamous for giving counterfeit bills. I never had any problems with fake bills until one day I was alone and decided to take a taxi home. I knew that I shouldn’t have given the driver a big bill but that was all I had at the moment. My cab bill came out to be 20 pesos, and all I had with me was a 100. After leaving the cab, I had a bad feeling but ignored it.

The next day, I went to the café to use my 50 dollar bill when I was told that my bill was fake. Inside, I yelled, !Mierda! I knew it was the taxi driver who gave me the counterfeit. After not being able to buy anything, I took my spare change and took the metro back home.

This is when it all began.

Being that Buenos Aires is quite diverse, still, Asians are quite rare. On the metro ride home, I noticed that I was the only Asian in sight. People began looking at me and some smiled. A few minutes later, I saw a boy, who couldn’t have been more than 6 years old coming towards me. He was shoeless and very dirty. He was walking around begging people for money and no one even batted an eye. When he came over to me, I ignored him. I ignored him and kept telling myself, don’t look at him in the eye, DON’T! Knowing me, I have a really weak heart so I knew that I would be tempted to give him money. After 5 minutes, he still didn’t leave my sight. I then remembered ah yes, I do have that fake 50 dollar bill. Keep in mind, 50 pesos is about $15 USD. And it may not be a lot, but for Argentina standards, it’s quite a bit. So hesitantly, I gave the little boy the 50 dollar bill. Within a nano second, he began screaming and ran down the metro with the money and his hands in the air. I was so shocked and realized what I did wasn’t a smart move. A minute later, that boy and 3 other kids came running to me. They all began begging and holding onto my legs. All saying “Chinita, por favor, POR FAVOR.” Everyone on the metro couldn’t stop laughing and a lot of them were trying to help me. People were throwing centavos (cents) at the kids. But it’s like comon! I gave this kid a 50 dollar bill, do you think they would run away with your measly cents? But obviously I knew what I did was stupid so my only option was to run away. My running away was not successful being that I was on the metro during rush hour. I only caused more attention as I was leaving and the cops began to surround me and the kids. That’s when I knew, wow, I am an IDIOT. !Que tonta!

I happily left the cops to get the kids away and safely escort them away.

Till this day, I always wonder, were the kids able to use the counterfeit? And man, how I could have done such a thing.

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Tips on packing

luggage full and ready to travel

Stress-fully packing for more than 50+ trips in my lifetime, I’ve learned one important thing, it’s better to pack less than to OVER PACK.

My rule of thumb is, lay out everything you want to pack on your bed. Examine what you think you would need the most and least. Then after doing that, slowly take out 50% of what you have originally laid out on your bed. Honestly, I have had a difficult time following my own rule. I’m still getting there.

No matter what the weather is, ALWAYS bring a light jacket or hoodie. A scarf/pashmina is also really useful. Just because it’s the summer, it doesn’t mean a scarf won’t come in handy. Most of the time, places blast their AC and you’ll wish you brought that extra hoodie/scarf.

Also, don’t over pack your bags with toiletries or common products that you can find in any big city. Because filling your bag with tampons, shampoo, cotton balls and q-tips seems to be a big waste of space.

I have also used Space Bags for my previous travels. If you take good care of them, they will be very beneficial.

Space Bag, a brand of compressible storage bags

Space Bag, a brand of compressible storage bags (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

http://www.amazon.com/Space-Bag-BR-5603-6-Medium-13-Inch/dp/B002Q62R02/ref=pd_sim_hg_1

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My experience with a work exchange (helpx.net)

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To protect the privacy of the person I will be mentioning later, I will just state that I was working in a hostel in San Jose, Costa Rica.

I decided to take part of a 6 week work exchange program. What does that mean? I work for a hostel in exchange for free accommodation. Recently having graduated college and wanting to maintain my Spanish skills, I thought this was a great choice.

My two roommates and co-workers were Mateo from Australia and Alonso, a local from San Jose.

roomies

When I first arrived to my new dorm, I was quite disappointed. It was a shabby room with bunk beds and the room reeked of feet! That’s when I realized, oh I guess my roommates are guys! Haha.

I first met Mateo, the lovely Aussie Marine Biologist. I instantly fell in love with Mateo. Tall, handsome, and intelligent. Nothing not to like about this lad. Then it wasn’t much later when I met Alejandro, the guy in the middle. When Mateo and Alejandro started dating, I was their offical third wheel. Tagging along on their hangouts and interrupting their sweet times together, he he he. We even took a weekend trip to Puerto Viejo! It was a fantastic escape from the city.

pura vida

My other roommate was Alonso. After about a day of talking to Alonso, I felt a connection with him. He is a very passionate, smart and talented person.

It really hurt me to know that both of my co-workers and roommates were being treated poorly by the owner of the hostel.

I was disgusted when I found out how much they were getting paid and the crazy hours Alonso had to work.

Alonso