Category Archives: How To

How I Pay For It

  1. Financial Aid.
    Because I travel through my University, all of my financial aid applies as normal.  I’m getting regular credits, so the travel part is really an extra.
  2. Scholarships.
    NU gave me enough money that it would cost me about the same to go there as to UMass (without full scholarship tuition.)  I’ve also been looking into the additional, overlooked scholarships both at NU and elsewhere, and I’ve been coming up with some serious dough.  A thousand here and there doesn’t sound like much, but for me $1,000 is round-trip airfare to Costa Rica and at least two weeks of accommodations and food.  If your travel is for legitimate, educational purposes, you can find a lot of people/institutions willing to fund it.
  3. Loans.
    Luckily, my loans are all some sort of less-scary student loan.  But I will have debt when I graduate, so that will limit my options a bit.  While I know I can live on $100 a week in some random place, I still need to make enough to pay off my loans.
  4. My parents. 
    Because my travel is educational and embedded in my college costs, and my parents are helping me pay for college, they’re also helping pay the cost of travel.  As an aside, I honestly have no idea how much they are or are not helping, which is part of why there’s no dollar-for-dollar breakdown.
  5. I go to cheap places.
    I love the developing world for oh so many reasons, but that one I always jokingly tell people is that it’s cheap.  A three-course lunch with a beer for $1?  Isn’t Cuba sounding nice?  You can also make some places cheaper by staying in hostels, going to the local market and being careful about when you splurge.  I definitely had a couple amazing expensive nights in Egypt, but in the end they cost like 50 bucks each for a pretty five-star evening.  In downtown Boston, 50 bucks won’t get you very far.  In some places, thats the cover and a couple of drinks.
  6. I work and save.
    NU has the coop program, which means I alternate six months of work for six months of class.  I have made it a priority to only take paying jobs, which is sometimes rather difficult in my major.  But this is a necessity for me, and I’ve still been able to have interesting, fulfilling work in my field, though some people (usually those who do not get the paying jobs) claim that is impossible.  I also work during the semesters when I’m in class.  Most importantly, I’m frugal.  I didn’t pick up my paychecks for my current job until 3-4 months in.  I only spend money on the weekends.  My downfalls? Concerts, clothing, and you guessed it: travel.
  7. Northeastern is Awesome About Travel.
    A lot of the programs I do have been great bargains.  I recently calculated that I spent $11,000 less than I would have if I had been on NU’s campus the whole time.  In Cuba, we paid a stud abroad fee on top of tuition (under $4,000) but that included flights, 2 meals a day, 4 side-trips, museums and the Cuban license.  If I had been at NU, a meal plan and on-campus housing would have been significantly more, with much less pizzaz.  For Egypt and Benin, I paid regular summer tuition (remember, NU students go to school year-round!) and in exchange got the credits, airfare, occasional meals, cultural activities and lodging.  In Egypt there were even more extras, like swanky hotels with floating swimming pools and all-you-can-eat buffets.  Again, housing and a meal plan of some sort would have cost me much more, and even if I just bought my own groceries and cooked it would have cost more than what I spent in Egypt, which was less than $100/week on top of tuition.  And that $100/week is not just food–it was booze, gifts, camel rides, and Nile cruises.

The moral of the story is that even if you ignore the value of the extras attached to my travels, I still saved money.  Make sure you investigate all of your school’s opportunities for travel and additional money.  Look at Fullbrights if you’re graduated, or free travel based on your profession, like the Boston Public School Teacher opportunity.

Travel is like anything else: if you want it bad enough, you will make it happen.  And it was certainly easier for me than it would be to buy a car or something.  Travel isn’t for the wealthy–it just depends on length of stay (longer is better), area of the world (developing and non-resort is better) and your priorities.  If it isn’t a priority for your savings, it will always be too expensive.

You Are Not Smart Enough to Look Like Hell

I know it’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but come conference I’m always reminded of the importance of appearances.  How is it that we can spend months on research, carefully choosing every point, motion and agenda item, focusing on even the strategic implications of introductions, and yet still find so many in our number who look like slobs?

I go to a co-op school.  We work in real, professional environments, and even have a class where they have us come in with sample outfits.  How are we not better than this?  Even basic stuff, like running a brush through the hair and slapping on a smile can make a huge difference.  Everyone, whether  they’re chairing or a delegate, is being watched constantly.  Perhaps we should occasionally look like it.

I get that being smart is what matters.  But if you’re a good enough delegate to be around the table at Nationals, you know that how you couch somehting, the window dressing, the rhetoric, matters.  And in the Arab League, it matters in a very big way.  So why doesn’t the same principal apply to our bodies as to our national policies?

It just reflects poorly on you.  It distracts from your message; it detracts from your credibility.  You wouldn’t swear in committee, so why are you so disheveled that it’s vulgar?  Bust out the good vocabulary as well as an iron, and you’ll make a better impression.  Wear comfortable shoes on the long days and more fanciful things on the shorter ones.  Cover all the bits your grandmother or boss should never see, and treat your body like it’s more than just a vessel to carry your massive brain and/or ego.

Buy clothing that fits.  Don’t wear a backpack over your suit–it’s really just killing the image.  Take even a small fraction of the time you used to prepare your research or your team, and use it to make yourself look as good as you will sound.  And for crying out loud, don’t be the millionth person in identical navy or black clothing.

10 Twitter Tips to Get You Started

Here’s a few things I’ve noticed after talking with some people who are confused by or hate on twitter, as well as some mistakes I’ve seen made by new people who follow me.  These are written to be understood by my mom, a budding technology user who has never been on twitter before in her life.  That means that even if you still type with hunt and peck, or don’t know how to set your facebook privacy settings, you’ll still be able to create an account and use twitter.  Not that my mom should do that.  Oh no…

  1. If you’re terrified of it or don’t understand it, don’t worry.  It’s like facebook status updates but without all the farmville junk getting in the way.  Well really, facebook stole twitter’s format because it’s so popular, but ya know.
  2. Don’t worry too much about your username–you can change it later!  Try not to make it too long or people won’t retweet you.
  3. Fill out some of the profile information and make a bio.  It doesn’t have to be great and you can change it later.  But people with similar interests are more likely to follow you if you look less spammy and show these interests right away (when they get an email saying you follow them, it will show your username, picture and bio.  So you should have all three.)  Continue reading 10 Twitter Tips to Get You Started

Making Friends Abroad

Some blogs and travelers will have you thinking that only agoraphobic lepers have trouble makeing friends on the road, but it’s not always so easy.  I find that for the most part, people who are good at making friends at home are also good at it abroad.  But if you have a hard tme, it can often be even more difficult in a totally new situation, where nothing is familiar.

  • Talk to children.  I know it sounds goofy or weird, depending on how creepy your mindset is, but children are much more willing to engage with strangers.  This is also great if you want to practice a foreign language.  Obviously they won’t go out drinking with you, but befriending the neighborhood kids can be a great way to break up the loneliness.  It also can ingratiate you to the rest of the neighborhood, if you’re staying someone for more than a few days.
  • Look for other travelers.  Hostels, museums, cafes and bars.  They’ll be easy to pick out, even in local spots.  Promise.
  • Find college students.  No matter what age YOU are, college students around the world are open and willing to meet new people.
  • Source your network for an introduction, even if it’s a thin connection.
  • Try not to seem closed off.  Make eye contact (unless that’s a no-no in the local culture), don’t cross your arms, and smile at strangers.  When you do meet new people,
  • Say “YES!”  this is one of the biggest tips, especially at the beginning.  You should obviously maintain common sense (my rule?  no boat parties with strangers–no escape route), but saying yes to things you normally wouldn’t do will open you up to new experiences and people.  Once you become more friendly you can suggest times or activities that are more suitable to your tastes.
  • Sign up for something.  A day tour, cooking class, whatever.  It will give you routine and expose you to new people in a condensed setting, where it’s normal and easy to make new friends.
  • Have a conversation piece.  A good book, a funny story, an interesting piece of clothing.  Something to catch a stranger’s eye or to fall back on when conversation lags.
  • Learn some canned phrases.  When in doubt, just ask them about themselves.  Family, hometown, career, travel.  If it’s a local, you’ve got it made: just ask everything you wish you knew about the country.  But make sure you stay polite.
  • Remember: Taking the plunge will get easier with time.

Relax, good luck and be yourself!

Delia on Matador.com

An Insider Tip I posted on Glimpse.org about travel in Egypt was used in an article on dating tips abroad on Matador.com

Head on over and check it out!

Streetcorner Salsa

Every night after dinner the Malecón and its adjacent parqueos come alive with street performers.  Conga, guitares, bongos, maracas y guerras can be heard from a few streets away, so the crowds gather.

The scene of the crime.

Everyone sings because the entire country knows the same songs.  If you don’t know it you quickly learn the beat, one that American music would never think to use.

Cubans are always dancing, I think they’re born dancing, and if you don’t know how there are always a dozen or so cubanos ready to teach you. Coming home from a club during our first week, a new friend offered to teach me, rather than bearing the sight of my flailing.  He was a good and patient teacher, unlike a lot of the other guys here, and not at all presumptuous about how I would repay him for the lesson.

So we started with the beat and the basic step, standing next to each other.  He would add in a new step every so often, and wait until I had recovered sufficiently to augment it encore.  Eventually, he was confident enough in my ability to not trip us both to start dancing facing each other, and by the end of the night there was even some turning and hand-fanciness involved.

And that’s how, at 3 am en a plaza on the Malecón in Havana, I learned to salsa.

How to Get a Cuban Boyfriend

Since everyone seems to be interested, here’s your quick and easy guide to finding a novio cubano:

  1. Be a Westerner or Gringa.  You really don’t have to be both, one or the other will do.  Just anything non-Cuban really.
  2. Come to Cuba
  3. Walk outside

Alright, you’re pretty much done.  The Cubanos take over from there.

It’s very strange to realize how many women come here looking exclusively for a fling, for a little Latin flavor.  Meanwhile, the guys get not only a little lovin’, but some food, booze and admission to clubs out of the mix.

While I’m sure there are plenty of guys out there not trying to run this game, and we have met some of them (I think), it’s still a bizarre, nagging part of all our interactions.  Do we pay for them?  Are we being taken advantage of?  I’m referring of course to our interactions with a group of our Cuban friends.  Anyone who knows me (sorry Nana!) knows this novio cubano thing would not fly with me even if I didn’t have Brady.

But how do you say no, when they clearly have so much less, and money that means very little to us means a whole lot to them?  Where do you draw the line?  And how, as a young, independent American female, do you assert yourself within any sort of relationship so contingent on inequality?  Good luck wrangling a relationship with someone whose country yours represses, and whose monthly salary is fixed at something like 200 pesos, or about 8 USD.  When I hear women caterwauling about making more than their husbands, I will now think damn, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Planning a Trip

Lately I’ve gotten some questions about how to choose a destination and prepare for a trip.  I’m wicked flattered that I’ve achieved status as the friend to ask for some of you, and this is my attempt to share what I’ve figured out so far.  They’re not hard and fast rules, it’s just trial and error from my own experience.

One thing I’d love to emphasize, though, is domestic travel.  These rules work even if you’re traveling within your own state, and don’t feel that you shouldn’t be contributing or proud of your resume, even if your passport is blank.  We’re lucky enough to live in such a culturally and geographically diverse country.  So often domestic travel is ignored or looked down upon, but you should be proud of learning about your home more thoroughly than most. So please, join in with the comments and advice, no matter how far or close your destinations are!

First, I recommend checking out your potential destinations on a few key places online.  You should be looking at climate, financial situation within the country, personal safety, language skills needed and the type of experience you want.  There are really only so many places where you can, but if all you want to do is lie on a beach all day at a resort you can go just about anywhere.

The following are a collection of my favorite travel websites:

Lonely Planet

One of the best things about Lonely Planet is that you can download portions of many of their guides for free, giving you a great starting point as well an idea of what their guide will contain.  You’re then better equipped to comparison shop.  If you do go with their guide, you can also buy it in digital, which is preferable for some travellers. They also feature a great interactive trip planner, if you’re into that sort of thing.

US State Department travel warnings

Here’s my gigantic caveat: never forget that this is made by a government. Yes, it is our government so you want to believe it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.  This is an avenue for propaganda like any other, and should not be your only source.  I also urge you to be mindful of the level of crime we actually are living in when we’re at home.  Everyone was worried about me going to Cairo, but I was much safer in the affluent neighborhood of Zamalek than in my dorm in the projects.

Glimpse

I like this site because the content is all user-generated.  You can read blog entries, how-to guides and tips.  They have a strict word count max on all of these, so you can get a lot of concise, first-hand data quickly.  (Full disclosure: I have a profile on glimpse)

Students Abroad

This one comes courtesy of mi madre and the State Department.  The point is to make a hip, relatable travel website, and they actually succeed.  I know, I’m floored.  This some dumb stuff, but it’s mostly user-friendly and surprisingly laid back.  There’s even a  fanny pack joke!

CDC

Depending on where you go and when, you might need some shots.  If you stick to western Europe (or New England) this won’t be a problem, but some more hardcore traveling should warrant a gander at this site and a trip to your local infectious diseases/travel clinic.  I like Lahey.

Before you go, the best thing you can do for yourself is to talk to other people who have been there.  I like to keep a running list of questions as I do my preparation so I’m sure not to miss anything.

On the fun side of preparation, I like to go into a country with a pretty good historical and cultural background.  I know this is unusual for most tourists, and I’m also admittedly a nut about history and research.  One of the most accessible things you can do for yourself is to watch a few films.  You could go with ones made in or by people of that country to get an idea of the culture, or something with a bit of historical accuracy for some research that even a normal human being would enjoy.

One of my favorite pre-trip activities is to read some books about or from the country that are neither academic nor travel guides.  Memoirs and fiction are a great way to feel connected to your destination without feeling like you’ve been assigned homework.

How about you guys?  Was there anything you disagree with?  What are your tips for travel preparation?  Do you have a preference for a certain brand of guides?  Is there a great travel site to add to the list?

Help your fellow travellers out and leave a comment!

Also, don’t forget to leave a comment here with your Cuba questions!

A Lesson in Window Dressing from Mr. Carroll

In my Freshman year of high school, in Mr. Carroll’s class, I suddenly found myself getting yelled at.  For yawning.  I hadn’t even realized I’d done it, cuz I was tired and fourteen, but I immediately started arguing back, citing a study I had recently read about come people’s predisposition to yawning (to the point where just reading the word triggers it).  I yawned involuntarily several times the argument, as well as this paragraph, whcih didn’t help matters. 

He looked at me, with that look he gives, and said “You know you can dance circles around me all you want, and you’re probably right, but that’s not the point.  There’s a way to do it, and there’s a way to do it Harrington.”

And he was right.  My gesture was truly thoughtless in the purest sense, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was insulting.  A year later, on the first day of school, a different history teacher threatened to jam a nalgene bottle into a student’s jaws if he ever yawned like that in his class again.  A little intense, but keep in mind this is a man who bit his dog back in order to teach him a lesson.  (No, the dog never bit him again.  Unfortunately, he didn’t employ the same technique to teach his child.) 

The way you do something matters.  The other day a woman I work with came in and asked me to do a favor.  A whole bunch of crazy landed on her that day, and she didn’t have time to get something done.  “So, even though I know this is way below your pay grade, would you have time to do this for me?” she asked. 

And I gladly did.  She acknowledged that I was doing her a personal favor, and that she knows I am both capable of and paid to do more complicated tasks than photcopying and mailing. 

She found the right way to do it.

Linguist

Paul Grew currently holds the title of Family Linguist, but I think I come in at a close second. 

Many people look at foreign languages as insurmountable and, well, foreign.  So here are a few tips from someone who has done pretty well for herself with language. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to sound like an idiot.  You need to speak in order to get better, and you will inevitably sound like a child.  Get over this and you will improve rapidly. 
  2. Look for cognates.  The better your english vocabulary and grammar is, the easier the other languages will be, especially if you go with a Germanic or Romance language.  Don’t worry if you’re bad at grammar, I’ve seen and experienced greater understanding of our own grammar concepts after learning the same one in a different language. 
  3. Pay attention the first time around.  I have been able to retain all those years of high school French avec Madame because I really learned and understood the concepts to begin with.  Now, when I review, it is just that. 
  4. See number one.  Yes, it’s that important that you speak often.  I came back from France a much better speaker than many of my friends because they were timid, so I was always the one ordering our food, asking for directions and trying to find the changing room.  Those who didn’t speak barely got anything out of the trip, linguistically. 
  5. Expose yourself to the language as much as possible.  This means movies, television shows, children’s books, music, whatever.  Your ear will get faster and your accent will improve. 

What’re your sure-fire tips for picking up/keeping up a language?  I know some of you are abroad now (Jackie) or will be soon (Miss Sarah) and some have had to deal with trying to maintain fluency after returning (Michelle.)  There are also a whole bunch of you who speak foreign languages (Aunt Sue, Dad, Kev) just as well if not better than me.  How did you do it?