Thursday, August 27, 2009

Random Travel Review

Current Location: Washington,DC
Arrival Date: August 25, 2009
Departure Date: undetermined

Thanks for all of the excellent questions! There were enough that I didn’t include any of my own. Hope you enjoy!

In which location did you learn the most? How/why?
• I wouldn’t know how to quantify my education abroad in order to select only one place. But Korea, India, Costa Rica, and Israel/Palestine definitely make the top of the list:
• Korea for a million reasons of friendship, art, language, food, and randomness. But most notably because I had the unique opportunity to immerse myself in their culture of business and to experience a very different perspective on work.
• Half of what I learned in India I learned within an hour of getting off the plane. It is otherworldly poor and this fact is reflected in everything about the country. But there is a magic there, and hidden in all of the smog and dirt are some of the most spectacular scenes I have seen or will ever see in my life. What I learned in indescribable, some places you just have to visit on your own.
• Costa Rica because it is where I first started to pick up Spanish and to really understand Salsa. Also, visiting the rainforest is like taking an ecology seminar.
• Israel and Palestine are at the forefront of world politics at the moment and visiting really helped me to make sense of that fact. There is a dichotomy between the two nations whereby one possesses a strip of land that they have beautified and maintained richly and another possesses a generous and welcoming, but modest, culture that rivals others in the region. Neither posses what the other has. Witnessing this illuminated the conflict for me.
• I should also give some credit to Mexico, my first third world destination as a child where I learned that there are other places much less wealthy than the US. And France, my first independent international experience when I was 17, where I learned that there are likely few other countries as wealthy as the US.

Which was the most beautiful beach?
• Samara, Costa Rica.

What foreign event/attitude/idea should Americans be more aware of?
• Globalization. Our country is a leader on this front, but our citizenry’s understanding of it varies. The world is very interconnected now, people all over the globe have grown up listening to the same music as I have, seen most of the same movies, and are up on many of the same fashions. When the American markets faltered, so did most of the rest of the world’s. As we rebuild our economy, we should keep in mind the structure of the global economy and consider to what extent we want to focus on ourselves and to what extent we want to participate globally. I believe that there is a lot to be gained, financially, in global markets and that the United States already has a huge leg up on competition. Investments in education will be key to keeping us on par with rapidly advancing Asian countries.

We'd love to follow in your footsteps so how did you pay for all that? I know, none of my business, but gee whiz!
• If you had asked that question a year ago, I would say minimize or eliminate your monthly payments (cars, mortgages, debt, cable, etc.), live simply, and use the few hundred/thousand dollars you save each month to plan a big trip at the end of the year. To make it a big trip, pick a cheap country, find cheap airfare at kayak.com or STA Travel (works for teachers now too!), and stay with friends or find new friends to stay with on couchsurfing.com. That of course assumes that you have a job, which you may have to quit in order to take your big trip. (Unless you just happen to have one of the only US jobs that grants you three months of vacation a year.) I saved money for my travels initially by minimizing my living expenses for a year and continuing to work when I could as a teacher in both Salt Lake and Seoul. I have not had a job now for long enough that it is apparent that I could in no way continue to finance my travels on my own. But Jon has. Which is why I owe him a really big trip after I pay off my law school debt.

How much did you spend?
• About $12,000USD. But I relied a lot on the hospitality of friends. If you want to include what Jon spent it would be significantly more.

What prompted you to do so much traveling at this point in your life?
• Some of you may have already heard this story. I was preparing to apply to law school and the first piece of advice I got from any lawyer I talked to was, “Don’t go.” Legal careers have one of the lowest job satisfaction rates in the country. So I started asking around to find out what lawyers felt like they were missing and I heard a lot regret for not having been able to travel more when they were young. A career after law school tends to start fast and may require an 80-hour workweek with no time for vacation. Serious lawyers get sucked in to their work, and may not emerge for decades. So, with my usual enthusiasm for getting things out of the way, I thought I would take a career-worth of vacation in advance.

How was traveling with a significant other?
• Traveling with Jon was great. We have everything important in common, the same philosophies regarding food, culture, adventure and travel. But spending 24/7 with anyone for six months at a time can get drab. Mostly because when you spend that much time with someone, you stop growing independently of each other and have less to share with and learn from one another. I treasure also my time apart from him and my travels with old friends and new friends who I met along the way.

Did you ever have to handle illness or injury while abroad? How'd that go? I seem to remember something about a concussion.
• Plenty! Planters fasciitis, multiple ankle sprains, that mini-concussion I got skiing in Park City, poison ivy, a few colds, other respertory problems caused by air pollution, rashes, food poisoning, anemia (years ago in France), and a few cases of traveler’s diarrhea. I bring along Imodium AD, antibiotics and pain medication in case of emergencies and it has really been a blessing at times. Jon too, is a blessing, because he carries me around when my ankle is messed up. I try to slow everything down a bit when I get sick or injured, but it isn’t always possible. Luckily, the doctors that I have encountered abroad in China, Korea, Australia, and India have been worlds more helpful and efficient than any I've seen in the US.

Did you ever eat non-vegan? If so, when and why?
• Yes. I am fairly lenient on my diet when I am abroad. Language and cultural barriers sometimes make it difficult to make certain that every dish I consume is animal-product free, especially from a purist’s standard. But I am not a purist, and certainly don’t recommend that people drive themselves crazy with it when they travel. It is far better from an ethical (and sanity) perspective to support the most vegan food options in each country than to boycott the local cuisine in totality. Potato chips and beer are safe vegan staples but do not constitute an acceptable diet and will not help to promote vegetarian cuisine abroad. It is better to work with local restaurants to develop vegan or near-vegan options. If enough people request it, they are likely to add it to their regular menu. You can see this happening already throughout heavily touristed parts of the world such as South America. I have a blog in the works about eating vegan abroad, check it out at http://veganamerican.blogspot.com/.

What was your favorite airport?
• Cool question. Having taken over 50 flights in the last two years, I have definitely come to value good airports. Minneapolis is huge and has tons of dining and shopping options, also seemingly friendlier staff. The Incheon airport outside of Seoul, Korea deserves major credit for being big, beautiful, and having a built-in Jimjilbong. It wins the prize structurally, but I have to go with SLC for character because they have a Squatters Pub, which sells not only a world-class veggie burger and other great vegan eats, but also 8% beer. That, and the airport is equipped with free wi-fi. Invaluable.

In all your journey's and visiting far off lands and meeting all the different people groups with their own beautiful and unique traits and customs, what have you learned about "people" and how will that impact your future, especially as it relates to law?
• Beautifully worded question. Yes, I have definitely learned a lot about people. But most of what I’ve learned is the kind of stuff that you just come to understand. I can’t imagine trying to explain it short of writing a book. One of the deeper things I have observed is that there is a trend of respect for the United States abroad. Not necessarily for our international political ambitions, but very much so for our accomplishments in business and entertainment. And also, I like to think, for our constitutional freedoms. Our justice system needs to live up our global role model status. I hope to contribute to this throughout my career.

And finally, do you find that all people, regardless of their environment, level of development, degree of dependency or any other factory such as race, color or religion have intrinsic value and are worthy of life, or have you found that you believe there are some, maybe because of the above reasons or maybe because of particular views that they hold do not have intrinsic value or are not worthy of life?
• One of my favorite moments while traveling came while watching a legless Indian “kick” a soccer ball to his teammates across the beach in Goa with his fist. I smiled at him and he smiled back. We were different in almost every way imaginable, but I remember feeling more respect for that person in that moment than I have had for many of the people I grew up with. I believe, and have believed since long before I started to travel, that all sentient beings regardless of religion, race or species are intrinsically deserving of respect for that sentience. That includes a respect for life, particularly an individual’s right to autonomy of life. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t bad individuals. If someone causes others enough suffering, they could presumably outweigh their intrinsic worth and it might be in a society’s interest to destroy them. Or if an individual threatens another directly, I believe that gives the individual being attacked a right to defense. As for environment, level of development, degree of dependency and factors such as race, color and religion, these things may affect a person’s worth in terms of lifetime earning potential but are unlikely to alter their degree of sentience.

Which group of people that you encountered while traveling seemed the most uniquely and consistently happy, and what do you think is the source of their happiness?
• This question delves at one of the greatest points of education throughout my travel. Having stayed in few countries much longer than a month, I can’t say with authority who the happiest were, though I do have my guesses. What I can say with confidence, however, is that wealth and happiness are not necessarily interconnected. Being able to feed yourself and your family, however, is important. Some of the least happy populations I have encountered are in the United States, South Korea, and India. The most uniquely and consistently happy? Costa Rica definitely makes the list, along with Bolivia, and perhaps The Netherlands. I think a cultural value for good health is a key factor, as are strong family connections and an illusion of equality, such that people feel like they aren’t so much worse off than everyone around them.

What country had the best food? The worst?
• Best: India and USA
• Worst: Taiwan and France

Where were the people friendliest? Meanest/rudest?
• Friendliest: Costa Rica, Bolivia and parts of the US
• Least friendly: Israel, France and parts of the US

Which country would you most like to live (permanently) if you were to leave the U.S?
• Permanently? Never! The United States is hands down my favorite country in the world. Though I could see myself living for a small while in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Costa Rica and The Netherlands.

Love,

Melissa

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