One year ago when I titled my personal blog “Cultures Collide” it was because I had planned to visit so many countries over the course of the year and I knew I would see things that differed from my own culture and that would collide with my upbringing. At the time I had no idea that the largest most difficult collision I would experience would be my return to America.

Over the course of my year overseas I have experienced new languages, weird food, vast cultural differences, many hours traveling on weird forms of transportation, living without a fridge oven or car, spending days without electricity or water, having only 3 pairs of shoes and 12 days worth of clothes and not understanding many of the things going around me. I don't know if it is because I have travelled a lot or if I am just a flexible person but all of that was easy compared to returning to the US. Granted I love my amazing US family and friends and seeing them has been wonderful but there are not many people that completely understand what I am going through in returning. Many people have tried to be super supportive, amazing and wonderful.  They have shown me tremendous love in so many ways but to understand the cultural collision that happens upon returning to the US after a year overseas is very difficult unless you have experienced it first hand.

You may be asking what is the big deal Kerri- You grew up here, get over it.  In an attempt to explain what  is happening with me I will explain the 3 biggest challenges I am currently experiencing and you can feel free to comment or criticize if you want.    

Many call this reverse culture shock.  And many people who have traveled extensively for long periods of time have comment that this is the worse kind of culture shock- I tend to agree with them.

The first major challenge I came across was the excessive lifestyle people have here and their need for physical possessions.  After living with just my basic needs for a year I came to realize that you do not need a lot to have a happy life.  We did not have a television, a refrigerator, a car, or many of the luxuries people have in America.  We did not live in a mud hut either with nothing but we had what we needed to get by.  We had a nice house, something to cook with, and our two feet to get around.  Everyday someone had to go to the market to get food to cook and we spent evenings with friends instead of watching television.  Many people here have said to me how did you live like that, but honestly I was the healthiest I have ever been, I made very intense relationships with the people I was friends with, and life was good.  When I returned the first thing that made me overwhelmed was the amount of stuff I had.  Granted before I left I thought I sold everything that I did not need but upon returning I felt like I had more than I would need in a life time.  I was so overwhelmed I went through every area of my house and eliminated half my wardrobe, threw out piles and piles of documents I had been saving since college, and donated many objects that I found to be pointless.  And after all that I still have more clothes than I need and stuff that I know is not important.  When I walk into a store here I feel like there is not a single thing I need and don't even bother looking at clothes anymore because I feel like I have too much.  After a week I still feel overwhelmed about the stuff in my house but what was the hardest was that every piece of clothing and object I donated I knew someone that could benefit from it far away and I knew that many people here are no longer interested in things once they have been used.  In America if it is not new many people are not interested in having it.  The frustrating part about all of this was that  every single thing I got rid of could have been given to someone I knew in far away countries, but to ship the materials would cost more than if I just sent them the money from shipping costs to buy the items there.  Which made me wonder- why as Americans to we feel the need to have so much stuff?  Why does everything we own have to be brand new? And why is it ok that we are ignorant of the fact that we do have so many things when so many people have nothing?

Ok my second cultural shock was the intense sense of urgency and work that exists here.  I have always said that the biggest difference I see between America and other parts of the world is the work load and the drive to have deadlines and schedules for everything.  This compared to the more relaxed attitude I have found in other countries makes me wonder what we are always rushing for.  Coming back I tried to mentally prepare myself for that.  I knew that I started work 5 days after returning home and I knew that it was not going to be easy, but as I sat in our teacher institute day and heard about how many things had to be accomplished by Monday morning I was feeling VERY overwhelmed.  Not only was I overwhelmed but so many other teachers were overwhelmed.  I know that education is not the only field that runs on calendars, to do lists and dead lines but sometimes it makes me wonder why we are so focused on getting so much done.  There are smart phone apps to help you get work done, email alerts to remind you of stuff you have to do, and a calendar on every system we use from paper to email to phones.  With all of that there are also advertisements about medications and therapies for depression, anxiety and things like restless leg syndrome everywhere you look.  Sometimes I wonder if the two things are not linked.  As I have gotten SO overwhelmed by the intensity of our developed advanced nation I also wondered if maybe we have made ourselves so focused on schedules and work that we have also made ourselves crazy.  Since being home I have tried to connect with many people and the thing that always amazes me is how scheduled they are and how they have to rearrange their schedules to see their friends or spend time with their family.  I am not sure if the way we live in the US is good for our mental health but I do know that one of the best things I learned this year while travelling is that is ok to slow down and take time to get things done.  The world will not come to an end if you are not doing everything or scheduled every hour of the day.  Sometimes relaxing and letting life happen to you is good too.  Now the trick is making my new way of thinking fit into my old American life.

After the intense throwing out of all my unneeded things and the decision to not obsess over my schedule, calendar, or to do list- I thought ok maybe I could do this.  Maybe if I just slow down and relax I will be ok.  That is when the phone calls started from my students in Tanzania.  It started during institute day when Humphrey, a student Jill and I took care of all year, called to say hi, see how I was and asked me to come back.  Then this morning Raphaeli, another student I have worked with for 3 years called to say hi and tell me he misses me.  Honestly I know that there are kids at my school in America that need me and there is alot I can do here also and the more people keep telling me that the more I don't want to hear it because no matter how many America students need me it is still hard to tell a kid without parents living by himself in his dead grandmothers house that I cannot come back right now but miss him also.  I love teaching- I love being in the classroom and I love the students I see everyday at Antioch they are great kids and the teachers are amazing people who I love to work with, but it is just not the same.  Helping kids find food, clothing, shelter, education access and civil rights when they have disabilities is so much different for me than teaching in America with computers, diversity clubs, sports teams, and enough resources to teach every kid in a different way.  

As much as I am trying and trying and trying to make it work and not be cynical and critical- It has been hard.  My new culture that has been built from my amazing experience has decided not only is it going to collide but it is going to smash everything I once knew about life to bits.   It is hard to look around and see how much stuff we have here and wonder do we need it when so many others are struggling.  It is hard to enjoy life here when overwhelmed by the amount that is expected and demanded of one person with so little respect for their personal time to live.  And it is hard to look at our textbooks, computers, and large teaching staffs and not think about kids over the ocean who only have pens and paper.  Kids who learn about computers but will never see one.  Kids who memorize the parts of a microscope but never actually use one.  

Those in the US that deal with me daily, and those in Tanzania that get my many sad texts messages please just know I am trying, please be patient with me.  I did not just go on vacation for a year.  I worked really hard, made a life for myself, and enjoyed everything about it everyday.  I love seeing every single person I am getting to see again in America and I love talking about what I missed and catching up but I also miss where I was, what I was doing, and the amazing people I fell in love with while I was there.  

So.....What have I learned about cultural collision........When do cultures collide?

Cultures collide when you go somewhere really really different for a while.  To a place that impacted your heart and mind and sent you home to realize you have forever been changed.

Sorry for the late blog entry….

For the last month I have been travelling around East Africa.  I have visited different places I have never been in Tanzania, seen some of the amazing beaches of Kenya, Trekked with gorillas in Rwanda, and visited the Source of the Nile River in Uganda.  It has been a pretty amazing journey.  Before I left on this long adventure one of my aunts asked me, “Kerri, you visit some amazing places but I still don’t understand why you love to
live in East Africa?”  This answer is not always the easiest for people to understand.  The things that make this place very different from America and very difficult to live in, are sometimes the same things I love most about it.  So in an effort to help everyone I love understand why I chose to try to live here this blog is dedicated to some of those reasons.  

Just for comparison purposes….

In the United States I am a highly educated award-winning teacher (so fancy I know but I am proud of that) who works long hours for my students.  I am insecure at times about life and some times get so passionate about my work that I can argue about the smallest things or break into tears over my frustration of the slow pace of educational change in America.  My co-workers spend a lot of time making fun of how involved I get in school and my need “to save the world,” one after school group at a time.  I run a Model United Nations and Interact Service Club.  I keep score at the volleyball games and take tickets at the football games.  It would be an understatement to say that I live for my work or that my work is my life.  I lived the last few years in a suburb 45 minutes outside of Chicago where the houses were pretty much the same and the grocery stores, restaurants, and places to go for fun were all corporate chains.  On the weekends I hung out with my family, ran activities at my school, or watched tv or talked to friends on the internet.  All events with friends generally had to be scheduled in advance because people were so busy with America’s crazy work expectations that no one had time for spontaneity and everyone had wall calendars, phone calendars, and email calendars to keep them on track.  I love to travel to fun and exotic places but many of my friends have kids and realistically their idea of travel is weekend trips to Wisconsin, weeks in Florida or other small trips due to the short amount of days people were given off of work.  Don’t get me wrong I love my life there and it is an interesting one full of amazing students, fun times, and wonderful family and friends.  I love Sunday mornings with Bill Mahr and Starbucks Coffee.  I love to go to the Chicago museums, eat at cool restaurants, or to just walk around Millennium Park.  But for me after everything I have done and all the places I have been at times every day in the US tends to feel the same.


In Tanzania I live in the north of the country, in one of the most beautiful, environmentally diverse regions, I have ever visited in all my travels.  I live in a middle sized city called Moshi full of crazy and insane interactions and experiences.  In a way of life that is completely different to what I am used to in the United States I am amazed every day by the things that surrounded us….

Everyday when I wake up I look out my back window to a view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  And everyday the view gives me the chills just looking at it.  It is the largest free-standing mountain in the world and with the glacier on top it looks like a massive piece of ice and rock that could kill anyone who challenged it.  But for me, I do not think of the rock and ice or of the thousands of people that are on the mountain that day trying to reach its peak, instead I think of possibilities.  It is this mountain that people come from all over the world to climb and stand on the top of so they can say they reached the roof of Africa.  The mountain provides jobs to hundreds of people in the region and brings so much money in the form of tourism to the area.  The glacier at the top provides water to thousands of people that would not have it otherwise. The slopes of the immense mountain are full of coffee plantations and banana trees that so many people work to earn a profit from.  Every time I see Kilimanjaro on a clear day I think.-  Wow, Amazing!   

View from my backyard window
We then spend time at Kilimahewa Education Center or Gabriella Center with amazing children who come from all over the area to get an education.  Some of our kids walk hours to get to school and then stay after school and on Saturdays just for some extra help that might help them pass the national exam and determine if they can have a secondary school education.  The kids at Gabriella have huge smiles and are so happy for positive attention that they light up a room when they walk in.  The kids listen to every word and although they do not always understand our messages they truly want and are grateful for every moment we spend with them.  Our afterschool group teaches leadership and life skills and you can see our students implementing the lessons they learned through their interactions with each other, their teachers, and through the stories they tell about their homelives.  Our outreach programs work with parents craving information about their child’s disabilities and you can see the small amount of hope they have start to shine brighter at the possibilities of support.  The desire for education and appreciation from students, parents, and organizations we work with warms my heart and is the most rewarding thing I have every experienced from a job.

Moshi, the town we live is a small town that booms due to tourism and a huge sugar plantation but if you travel west an hour you come to a much larger city called Arusha full of business, development, and many people. Both cities are full of traffic and congested with cars, people, motorbikes, buses, and businesses on street corners with funny names like “Chicken Pub”.   One of the things I love most about this part of where I live is the drive to Arusha.  On the way to Arusha you go from the lush forests and crops that fill the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to a vast open Savannah full of Acacia trees and people that live like nomads traveling around looking for water, food, and business.  You look out over the rolling planes and see the dust, the trees, and the moving people and I think of the Africa one envisions before they know better.  I think of ancient Africa with warring tribes, spears, mud huts, and people wearing small loin clothes from old history books.  This is the stereotypical perspective that most Americans have of Africa and is not completely accurate today but looking at this vast Savannah you can imagine what it was like and actual envision it coming to life.  

When you live in a place like I do you often miss the small things from home that make you so feel comfortable.  You miss silly things like good coffee, comfortable couches, places to hang out where you won’t get bothered because you are a minority.  When you are in the United States you have access to these things everywhere you go.  A cup of Starbucks coffee just becomes a part of normal life.  Sitting in a cute café with comfortable couches is not really as exciting because they are on every corner.  You walk down the street and everyone in the United States looks different so people leave you alone and you can go about your business without talking to anyone.  In East Africa good coffee, comfortable couches in cafes, and places where you don’t stand out like the statue of liberty exist but they are rare.  When you find them you love them for the happiness they bring you that you never would have thought a comfortable coach could bring you.  You get excited to go to them and you make special trips to visit these places just to get that feeling.  If they have wireless (which does exist here in some places) you get even more excited and sink back into your American habits of playing on your ipod and not talking to the people around you.  You love it and tell all your other friends about it because you want them to share in that feeling and go with you.  This new appreciation for the small things in life makes you happy you live in a place where you can finally see the value of the miniscule experience of living.

Living in a place like this you also learn about how to live differently, you have to  adapt, learn how to relax and wait, and learn a new form of patience.  Life here is very slow and so much different than the United States.   The work ethic is almost the opposite of what you see in America and the values of life are very different.  The culture you have to adjust to here is one built on relationships and social interactions.  People value each other and interactions as a way to share stories, gather information, and do business.  Working is important and there are systems and rules but often nothing can be done here without talking to many people, making others feel comfortable in the process, and not stressing over small things that might derail your scheduled day.  As a result working and living here leads to different experiences everyday and everyday is spent waiting for someone or something.  I cannot tell you of a single day that has been the same as any other day.  Everywhere we go we meet people, talk and socialize and develop new ideas of how to improve what we are doing or how we are living.  These interactions happen on the street corners, in offices of friends, at the grocery store, next to the bus stand, in the road, everywhere.  Everyday our planned workday changes, we talk and work with different people, and we hang out with friends and relax without a pressure to get work done for the next day. In one day you might have to have 15 conversations to get one piece of information, or call 3 people to find out where your meeting is, or stop in five different offices to get one important document. It often takes so long to accomplish tasks here that after one day you feel like you have worked for a month.  You might be thinking that it sounds exhausting but for me this means everyday is a different challenge and you get to visit different places and talk to different people everyday.  Monotonony does not exist in this part of the world, at least not in our lives.  This also means I get to have spontaneous experiences every day.  I can see my friend on the street and get a coffee and no one questions my work ethic.  I can meet someone in the morning for a meeting and then decide to stop and visit a students home and it is completely normal.  I can plan an amazing autism conference with a group of people and trust that word of mouth will attract people to come without trying to fight people to listen to me through their blue tooths, cell phones, and busy schedules.  I have also come to learn how to survive it without getting frustrated and now I find I thoroughly enjoy the slow pace of life here.  

You have to scratch cards and enter number into your phone to make it work. Sometimes they only have 75 cent vochers and you can spend 15 minutes scratching them and entering them.
You order food and drinks but might wait an hour for someone to bring you a bill. Service is very slow here.
Everyday you have to go to the market to buy what you need that day for dinner. And if you need rice you have to go through it and get rid of the rocks and sticks before cooking it. It is much more difficult than Uncle Bens.
These are just a few of the things that I love about where I live but over the last month I have also been able to experience some of the amazing beauty and breathtaking environments that exist in Africa.  Traveling around Africa is not easy.  It requires lots of patience, many bus rides, lot of confusing situations and long hours waiting but once you reach different places you see things like you would never imagine.  The animals are incredible and things like the National Parks, Nile River or Lake Victoria are vast and are still great examples of natural untouched beauty.  You don’t see crazy high rise hotels or paved roads full of corporations trying to make a profit.  Instead you see a natural environment and the people around it not even aware of the rarity of the place they live.  I cannot put into words the amazing things I have seen so check out these pictures below and just imagine you are there.

Last but not least the most important reason I love living here is the people I have come to know.  In the US I often feel like I am not completely understood.  In my life I have travelled to 6 continents, 33 different countries, on over 20 different airlines.  I don’t know why I have done these things other than I love the adventure, meeting new people, going to new places, and feeling challenged.  I have seen the amazing ancient buildings and structures like Stonehedge, The Greek Parthenon, The Colosseum, The Pantheon, Ankor Wat, and Wat Pol.  I have seen wild animals such as lions, giraffes, whales, gorillas, seals, elephants and others in their natural habitat.  I have stood on huge rugged cliffs on the edges of Europe, America, New Zealand, and Thailand and stared into every major ocean. I have hiked through rainforests, trekked up mountains, ridden a bike down a volcano, and rafted through major rivers.  I have lived an awesome life and I am only 31.  I do not have a house or apartment in the US, anything I do own is in boxes at my parents house.  I am no longer married and everyday unsure of what the future may hold but I know I love my life.

When you have lived the way I have lived and seen the things I have seen it is sometimes really hard find people who understand you.  Here I have been able to meet people who have done similar things, people searching out adventure, people wanting to live non traditional lives and I don’t feel a need to have to explain myself.  

I will be leaving this amazing place and returning home to America in 2 months.  I know my family is very excited and I am very excited to see them but before I come home I did want wanted to answer my aunts question about why I stopped in East Africa.  I love living here because I love the amazing environments, the rewarding work I do, the new appreciation for the small things in life, the relaxing pace of life, the untouched beauty that exists and the wonderful people I have met.  

I hope everyone is well and you had a great Memorial Day weekend!  Talk to you soon!  More blog posts will be coming soon!

This week was pretty low key here in New Zealand.  Both my cousin Maegan and her husband Mark were working this week, which left me on my own to explore some of the neighborhoods surrounding their house.  This also allowed me to get to see more of the differences between America and New Zealand. 

I started the week hiking up a large hill by Maegan's house that took me about an hour to hike up.  Since it was winter and a bit chilly I have been dressing in layers.  Apparently none of the homes in New Zealand use insulation when building and very few have central heat or powerful heaters.  Mae and Mark's house has a small heater in the living rooms and they close all the doors around the house to keep that one room warm.  At night there are heating pads on their beds that they turn on before getting in bed to warm them up before going to sleep.  As a result during winter it seems extra cold within the house. So every morning I put on many layers of clothes before going out.  As I started walking up the hill I saw many of the other people on the hill were in shorts and t-shirts.  One guy saw me in all my layers and turned to me and said, "A bugger of a hill here huh?"  Obviously I was standing out in my long pants, sweatshirt, and hat.  By the top of the hill I was a few layers less and looked like I ran a few miles.  At the top of the hill was a really cute cafe called Cup.  It had a beautiful view over Christchurch and the day was so clear I could see all the mountains on the west end of the island.  At the cafe I had a cup a tea and enjoyed the view.

The next day I decided to take a walk around the Avon River that runs through Christchurch and right by Mae and Mark's house.  It was a bit of a walk that lead to me a cool park where kids were playing rugby.  Rugby is a huge game here.  Mark says it is the national sport of the country.  Kids grow up playing rugby or football (soccer) and are often seen walking with a rugby ball in hand.  This year the  Rugby World Cup is going to take place in New Zealand and before the earthquake Christchurch was going to be a location for the games.  Unfortunately the earthquake has badly damaged the stadium and all the games have been relocated.  The Christchurch rugby team has also been forced to play all of their games at visitor's stadiums.  With all that hardship they were able to make it into the championship game that took place in Australia.  While here I was able to participate in a Friday night get together to watch the Rugby Championship.  Hanging out with Mark and Mae's friends eating fish and chips (fries) and watching a big deal sports event was pretty similar to a watching football in America. 

I then spent Thursday with Christine, Mark's mum, who took me out to lunch with her sisters and then to an awesome rock quarry outside of town where I hiked around the art gardens while she went and got a haircut.  For lunch Christine's sisters always get McDonalds, which I found quiet interesting.  In New Zealand McDonald's burgers, fries, and drinks are much smaller than they are in the states.  I bought lunch from a different vendor next to McDonalds that had some really good chicken tikka wrap in naan bread.  It was good and I was happy to eat something different than I am used to.  I am finding that New Zealand has all types of food but they tend to have similar diets to what I found in England.  The food here contains more breading and meats than fruits and vegetables and everyone drinks tea.  My favorite things have been the words for things.  For example: Soda is called Fizzy, Toffee is called Hokey Pokey, Dinner is called Tea, Ground beef is called Mince, and Jello is called jelly. 

On Saturday Maegan, her friend Heidi and I took a trip to a small seaside town of Akaroa. 
Driving to Akaroa we drove through some of the amazing scenery that made Peter Jackson chose this country for Lord of the Rings.  It was a beautiful drive.  The town of Akaroa was founded by French whalers and traders and still retains it's French feel. (Click here to see the Video of Akaroa) It was a really cool place where we were able to walk around the french village, see some cute shops and have a cute lunch in a old country dairy.  A Dairy is a small convenient store that sells meat pies, tea, coffee, and sodas.  It is like a small convenient store, similar to a 7-Eleven with tables.  We were also able to explore some of the Maori cultural buildings.  The Maori are the people living in New Zealand prior to the Europeans settlers.  We were able to see one of their Marae centers, which is a gathering place for the Maori people for celebrations, funerals, and village meetings.  We were also able to explore one of the older cemeteries in the area.  Some of the headstones dated back to the 1880's.  At that time there was a plague that wiped out many people.   Most of the inhabitants of the cemetary where buried during this time.  Unfortunately the earthquake damaged many of the headstones in the cemetary.  In one day we managed to see many different things.  All in all it was a great trip.

I am finding that much of New Zealand is very similar to England with a pacific island culture (the Maori) mixed in.  They are a British Colony that developed into a CommonWealth so that does explain it.  After living in England for a 14 months after collge I got used to their way of life so New Zealand's culture is not as shocking to me as some of the other places I have been.  My favorite things so far are the cups of tea everyone offers or provides, chocolate digestives (cookies), the funny words for things (such as "The Wap Waps" which means the middle of nowhere, "stubby's" which mean short shorts), the amazing landscape, and the fun people. 

This Wed. I a going on a road trip with Mae to the West Coast.  The West Coast is most known for it's beautiful landscape. We plan to drive through the mountains to Castle Hill, the beginning of the mountain pass to the West Coast, then through Arthur's Pass, home of some amazing waterfalls, and on through some amazing scenery to the Franz Josef Glacier.  We plan to then spend 3 days on the West Coast visiting different sites.  We are going to return to Christchurch on Friday to pick up Mark and the camper van we have rented for 4 days and start another road trip up the South Island to Kaikoura to see some seals, then to Blenheim to see some of the wine country, then to Picton to catch a ferry through the Queen Charlotte Sound to the North Island.  Once on the North Island we plan to drive through some of New Zealands famous volcanos and then camp by Mark's aunts house somewhere on the Northern Island.  We plan to stay with Mark's aunt for Sunday and Monday and then fly back to Christchurch.  On Tuesday morning I will then depart this beautiful place for my next adventue to Australia.  It is going to be great.  I cannot wait to tell you about it....Stay tuned!
What a great week!  This was a week I realized how excited I am about what I am doing and how freeing it is to have a dream and turn it into a reality.   

I spent the start of the week with my parents at the house our family is building in Crivitz, WI.  This area is known for it’s winter snowmobiling season but also has some great white water rafting in the area.  I love white water rafting so I thought why not go.  After a few rainy days I was able to join on to a trip of campers going down the river.  I was able to navigate a fun yak, which is a blown up version of a kayak and I got to help the guides with the campers.  Things were going great and we stopped right before the first major rapid to examine the scene.  We pulled our boats over and scouted the fall to see which path our little kayaks could navigate.  The kids went down in large rafting boats but the smaller kayaks needed a plan.  After looking at it for a few minutes my guide, Rob, informed me that if I wasn’t up for it I could take my boat around.  I thought, you only live once so make it interesting.  At the first drop I nailed it and it was such an adrenaline rush.  I was so proud of myself and so happy to have conquered the class 4 rapid in a kayak.  Afterward I thought, I got this.  After the second and third drop a groups of kids rammed into my boat and knocked me out of my kayak.  This lead to me going down a 5 foot waterfall without my boat.  No major injuries were sustained but I was pretty sure that at one point I felt like I was going to drown but I made it.  It was a crazy and exhilarating experience.  I was glad I had the guts to go even though I was by myself.

After this adventure I went to a going away party that a fellow teacher and some of my students put together.  The party was a great time.  We spent 3 hours talking about different cultures and how to push yourself to be a better global citizen.  The students asked me some awesome questions that pushed me to think about my experiences and how to give them the best answers.  It was wonderful time that made me leave feeling like we had open each others minds.  It also made me realize I am really going to miss this group of students and our awesome discussions.

This was followed the next day by another great evening, a going away party with my family and friends.  I was so happy to see all the people that showed up and to know that so many people cared about me.  It was such a good time and chance to talk to people.  I will miss everyone but am sure we will all keep in touch.

Well, I leave in 8 days and my passport came back with a visa in it- which is exciting.  My good-byes have been said to many and I am now wrapping everything up.  In the final days before my departure I am so excited to be going and so happy with the time I get to spend with all my family and friends. 

Moral of the story for today (for my students who keep asking me for my deep thoughts): 

1)   Live every day as if it is your last (Life is much more fun that way)

2)   Always cherish your relationships with loved ones (they will be there when times are rough and help you celebrate when times are good- they are the rocks that keep you on steady ground when the river is raging around you.) 

This week two of my good friends, Farahani and Charisma, came to visit for a week.  It was a great experience.  With Farahani being from Tanzania and going to school in America it helped me get a better idea of just how crazy it can be when cultures collide.  Farahani has been in America for one year and is going to college in New Jersey, and Charisma in an America who just finished medical school and has traveled to Tanzania to volunteer in the local clinics and hospitals.  Both of them were nice enough to come to an Interact meeting (a student club I run at ACHS) with me and talk to my students about what life is like for a  Tanzanian to live in America. 

Farahani talked about how hard it has been for him to get used to how many things we have here and how much we take for granted.  He told students many stories and how the hardest thing for him was seeing the large number of things Americans have and thinking about how many people are in such need in his home country.  Many of the stories he told helped open the eyes of my students.  Here are some of the stories that stood out to them and to me.

He told students about was how difficult it is to go to an American restaurant and get a menu.  He described how it requires intense studying just to decide what to eat in America, and how once you decide there are twenty questions until you fully order……How would you like it cooked?  What do you want on the side?  What type of dressing do you want?........In his country the menu is one side with only a few options and there is no alternative to what is written.  Beans and rice is beans with rice.  Chicken Fried is fried chicken.  When asked how he would like his chicken (original, spicy, mild) his first thought was “Which one means dead?” 

He talked about how difficult it can be to drive in America.  In Tanzania there are only a few stop lights, and all roads are one lane roads.  Here there are so many stop lights, stop signs, lanes, streets and cars.  He told students that driving for him was like sitting through a really difficult math class that you couldn’t fully figure out what to do and you had to pay attention to so many things that eventually you just don’t want to do it anymore.

He discussed with them how difficult it can be in America because very few people talk to you and it can seem like a very unfriendly place.  In Tanzania everyone talks to their neighbors and knows everything about everyone through lots of conversation on the street, in town, at home, at school, everywhere.  He told them how when he first came to the US he spent most of his time in his apartment because very few people talked to him and it did not seem ok to go knock on people’s doors and talk to them.  He explained how in Tanzania it is perfectly ok to walk down the street and talk to a little kid or a complete stranger where in America if you start talking to a little kid people think you are kidnapping them and a stranger walks away from you quickly thinking you are crazy. 

Through this visit it reminded me how different cultures exist in the world and it is sometimes so hard to merge them together.  Had Farahani not told my students about these differences they might not have known how different our culture can seem to others.  Maybe through his conversation and his sharing of his experience they will be more open to those with different backgrounds.  I know that after this week together our cultures definitely collided and although Farahani and I did not see eye to eye on all matters we are better friends now because we tried to understand each other. 

I cannot wait to set out on this next adventure and see how different life can be.  After this very difficult year I am ready for a new adventure full of new ways of life, new cultures, and the chance to meet different people.    Though are cultures will surely collide and it will be difficult for me at times.  I am excited how that collision will change me as a person.  

Stay posted.....

This week  a student of mine told me that reading my blog made everything about my trip seem so stressful.  Although I do agree that planning a trip (by yourself for one year, with little money and no real plan except to have fun and make a difference in the lives of others) is very stressful at times, there are many reasons why I am doing this.  So I dedicate this post to sharing those reasons and to encourage others to travel more- the planning is stressful- the traveling is amazing and life changing.  

So here are my top ten 10 reasons why the stress prior to the trip is totally worth every minute:

10)  The beautiful landscapes you encounter- waterfalls that show you the power of water, tropical beaches that make you feel like you disappeared to paradise, beautiful forests with the most exotic animals, tall cliffs that make  you wonder how they exist, mountains that make you feel on top of the world, and wide open land full of wonder.

9)  The most amazing stars you have ever seen in your life in shapes and designs you do not see from your side of the world

8)  Incredible animals in their natural habitat that only exist to you in books and at the zoo.  Nothing is cooler that watching a leopard eating an antelope up in a tree, a monkey taking care of its young, or an elephant spraying water over itself in the wide open Serengeti.  

7)  Wonderful and scary food that you would never have the courage to try in the comfort of your home.  Everything should be tried once, even if you don't like it, it will give you something to talk about: Fried Spiders in Cambodia- here I come (:

6)  Learn how to relax and slow down.  America is the country of go, go, go.  We often work 80 hour weeks and define success by how much money we have.  Through traveling you learn that many parts of the world define success by happiness not material possessions.  Many countries also have a much more laid back attitude about life and spend more quality time with each other.   

5)  Getting back to the basics of life makes things less stressful and you enjoy life much more.  LIfe is much easier when you only have to focus on keeping yourself healthy, finding basic shelter, obtaining enough food to manage, relaxing and having fun.  

4) When in situations that challenge you, you develop skills you never knew you had.  You learn that you can help so many people with knowledge you bring and that so many people can help you with the things you never thought you could do.

3)  Learning about cultures and customs that are so different than your own.  This teaches you how different and how similar people are all over the world.  It also teaches you that while you might not be able to communicate or understand each other all the time, kindness and compassion are a universal language to help you when you do not understand and they are skills we need to use more often in America. 

2)  The most amazing peopleyou have ever met and that you will never forget.  While you are far away from home you will meet people that become some of your closest friends and people at home will not understand how these intense friendships were created but your life will forever be affected by these friendships.

1)  You learn that your life is so small and minuscule in comparison to what is out there and that the world is big enough for all people, races, religions, ethnicities, and cultures.  You learn that if you feel lost, so do others, andyou end up finding yourselfthrough your experiences.

Some Pictures of Past Adventures:

Trying to leave the country for a year can be a bit difficult and it requires me to get my life organized for a full 13 months.  This is very challenging considering I am often a last minute planner, sometimes even a procrastinator.   This weekend while decorating for the ACHS Prom (where my first group of students at Antioch are now seniors- good work guys!) I came to the realization that I was actually leaving the country in a month and a half.  School is coming to a close and I am a bit freaked out because I am not completely ready for my trip or organized enough.  My thoughts were racing:

"Do I have enough money?......  Will I bring enough stuff?............  Where am I staying in Indonesia?...........  Do I have enough money to pay bills while I am gone? ........... I still haven't sent away my visas! .............  I have to cancel my cell phone service...........   I wish their were funding grants for volunteers leaving their lives behind? ............... I need a rain jacket....................  How will I pay for a full year living without a salary?.....................   I want to plan a going away party with my family and friends.......  I wish Oprah answered my email on her Angel Network...............    I need to make final payments to my Thailand tour.........................   I wish Ellen responded to all the emails people sent for me for funds?....................  I need to make a packing list..................  I need to email my friends my skype name (It is KerriElliott- In case you are reading this and want it). ....................... I have to post this blog on my school faculty and student newsboards."------->  UGH! 

Well after this mind race session on my 2 hour ride home from Lake Geneva, I realized I need to make myself a to do list and prioritize.  So tonight I did that.  I worked on figuring out all my bills that I will need to pay while I am gone- student loans, car loan, and such- and set up automatic bill pays from my checking account so I don't have to worry about those bills.  I figured out how much I need for those bills for one year and put that money aside so I would have it.  I then reviewed my visa applications and realized that after some phone calls that I really only need to get a visa for Cambodia and Tanzania ahead of time.  Australia I already was able to get online, Indonesia you need to get at the airport, Thailand no longer requires a visa for US citizens, and it is easier to get a Laos visa when you get to Asia.  So this week I need to get passport pictures and send away for my Cambodian Passport.  When that is being processed I also need to make sure to get a letter from Tanzania about my volunteering.  This requires a phone conversation with Mama Grace in Tanzania- which will occur at 5am on Tuesday.  I also realized I need to cancel some of the things here while I am gone- such as my cell phone and gym membership so phone calls will have to happen for those this week.  

As for packing- this is where I have the most trouble- What to pack?  One backpack- four seasons!
Luckily my brother heard all my concerns and gave me his rain coat which I was in need of- but I am still struggling with what to bring.  I put together my box to ship to TZ but am still in need of some toiletries and food I can send that I will want- such as granola bars, pancake mix (I love pancakes), arizona ice tea packages, muffin mix, oatmeal (i hate oatmeal- but it is the easiest thing to make over there).  My plan is to send this box to TZ next weekend.  

So my two hour long prioritizing session has truly helped.  I also came to the realization that Ellen and Oprah are not my answers for my money stress- I will just need to have some really good budgeting skills and hope for the best.  When all else fails- I am fluent in English and everyone is always looking for an English tutor.  

So as they say in Tanzania- Hakuna Matata or Hamnashida or Hakuna Shida or Usijali or Tulia Simba- 

You have to love a culture that has so many different ways to say No Worries!  

50 Days!  I cannot wait (:

My attempt at packing for my trip.


My Backpack that I will use from July-Sept. to hold all my belongings.  It is bigger than it looks.


My box to ship to Tanzania.


Will these three piles of clothes actually last me for 2 1/2 months?


My brothers rain jacket- Thank You Joe!

In 58 days I will be leaving on the adventure of a lifetime.  Although I am so excited to travel through 7 countries in 13 months, I am struggling a bit with packing.  Due to the fact that I will be backpacking through 6 countries and living in Tanzania for 11 months of my trip I am trying to pack a box to ship to Tanzania with my clothes for Africa and then a backpack for the other 2 months of my trip.  I want to ship my box of clothes and supplies to my friends in Tanzania now so I can be sure it gets there before I leave.  In the process I have also been trying to think about what I need in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  This has been a bit difficult due to the fact that each country has a different climate.  New Zealand and Australia will be in the middle of their winter, Indonesia is an island climate and I will be surfing, and Thailand, Cambodia and Laos will be in monsoon season so I will need rain gear.  This creates a problem when I only have one backpack to put all this gear in.  And I am a girl who always packs to much- this is making this part of the trip a bit difficult.  But it does mean I am a little bit closer.  (:  
My goal this week is to make sure that I have all the  proper documents to visit each country on my list.  Anytime someone goes to another country they need to check the government requirements of entry into that country.  Many countries require visas and have visa application fees and forms you must fill out.  This often requires you to download the form, fill it out, get a money order from your bank for the fee, print out your flight itinerary and bank statements, get 2 passport pictures for the embassies to keep on file, and mail all the documents with your passport to the countries embassy in New York or Washington DC.  Since you are putting your passport in the mail (which can be nerve racking) you need to pay for a tracked envelope to the embassy and the tracked envelope back to your house for the embassy to use.  If you are planning to stay longer than a tourist is allowed (like to volunteer) you also need a letter from the registered organization you are volunteering at.  This is a pain in the butt process for any trip you take but it is extra "interesting" if you are traveling to 7 countries.  Some countries have more laid back rules for travelers and you can pay for your visa once you land in the country you are visiting.  This usually requires you to stand in a long line at the airport waiting for a customs official to process your application.  If you do this you need to have the proper documents with you and the customs officer at any point can deny your entry and send you back to where you came from.  For this reason- I rather do this before I leave.  So after some research I learned I will not need a visa to enter New Zealand if it is under 90 days (:  So no worries there.  Australia I will need to get a visa prior but I found an application online for it that might not require me to mail in my passport (: .  Indonesia requires you to get a visa and also have proof that you have a yellow fever vaccine (which I have from my first trip to Africa), the fee for entry to Indonesia is $45 and I can get my visa when I arrive if I choose to.  Thailand does not require a visa for Americans, but Cambodia and Laos do.  For Cambodia I need to complete the form and collect my documents and mail to the embassy with a $25 fee.  A visa into Laos is $50 and must have all the documents above but the visa will only be good for a 30 day visit.  Most of these visas are just formalities and a bunch of beuracratic red tape that allows you into a country, but the most difficult one for me to aquire is the Tanzanian volunteer visa.  This is due to the fact that I am asking to stay for a 1 year period of time.  To do this I also need a letter from Kilimahewa explaining what I am doing and demonstrate that I have enough funds to live for one year.  This visa is the one I will most likely hold my breath when I send my paperwork and hope for the best.  Part of the stress is that the Tanzanian government requires the organization you are volunteering for to be registered with the government, which Kilimahewa is but the problem lies in my distrust of the government to be organized enough to have our registration for Kilimahewa.  In all the years past I have visited on a tourist visa which granted me access for 60 days.  This year it will be for one year. 

So my goal for this week is to start collecting all the paperwork I need for each country, get my passport pictures taken for each country, make copies of my flights, vaccination records and bank account info for each country, and start sending my passport out to the countries I am planning to visit.  I will keep you posted on how it goes.
This is my first post and I am exactly 72 days until my big adventure around the world.  This year has been a very rough one for me.  Many doors have closed or slammed in my face and many have opened.  I would never have imagined a year ago that my life would have done a back flip.  In one year my relationship with my husband ended, my house was sold, I moved back in with my parents and decided to take a year off and travel the world.  I know it sounds very "Eat, Love, Pray"ish but for me it is more than that.  This year has helped me open my eyes to see the person I want to be as opposed to the person you are supposed to be.  In American society in your late twenties success is defined by marriage, a house, and kids.  For a long time I thought that was what I needed to be "happy".  In this last year I have learned that maybe the house, marriage and kids is not all that is needed to be a "success" or to be happy.  This year of turmoil in my personal life has made me think back and reflect on my life and the times I have been most happy.  I remember hiking in the Lakes District in England with some of my closest friends, dancing in a night club in Krakow Poland with my cousin Katie after spending a depressing day at Auschwitz, staring at the stars with my good friend Brent on the beaches of Greece, calling my friend Jonte from Italy to describe the sun setting, zip lining through the Costa Rican rainforest, riding doom buggies in Tahiti, driving through the Serengeti at dusk, Camping in the Hot Springs outside Arusha Tanzania, and being smuggled into Panama on a tour that wasn't exactly led by a tour guide.    Then I also think of my amazing family that has been there for me and has supported all my crazy antics, even the ones that might involve snakes and sharks, and I realize how blessed I am.  I am not a religious person but this year of hardship has definitely opened my eyes to what I have and those in my life that I love and could not live without.  As I spend this year making new friends and participating in new crazy adventures I will always keep in my head those adventures and those people who gave me the courage all these years to do my own thing and find my own "success".  

And to my students reading this, I hope my experiences over the next year can help you see that there is a big world out there and although cultures at times collide sometimes that collision leads to amazing experiences.  Always Remember- Explore- Dream- Discover.