10 Reason to visit Okinawa

As a military brat I have moved the majority of my life. By the age of fourteen, I had attended about eight different schools (or the ones I am able to remember.) And for about two years of my life I traveled between the U.S., Japan and Okinawa.It was my first time stepping foot out of the U.S., and my first time traveling alone. Okinawa is an island off the coast of Japan. Here’s a bit of history about the island.

Before becoming part of Japan it was an independent kingdom known as the Kingdom og the Ryukyus. It was a small, but powerful kingdom, even defending itself against the Japanese military in the 1400s.   It’s capital city is Naha and is a very busy part of the island. The locals speak Okinawan or Ryukuan language, but during WWII they were forced to speak Japanese.

And because I loved the island and my weekly adventures. I would like to share with you 10 reasons you should visit the small, but powerful island in the Pacific.

1. Beaches

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Okinawa has some of the clearest waters in the Pacific. Many of the beaches on the island are man made and located near resorts.

2. American Village

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Despite its name you will find many Japanese gadgets, clothes and food here. It’s kind of like an outdoor mall. It’s where many military and locals hang out to exchange cultures, languages and traditions. If you’re looking for a place to grab dinner or go on a date this would be the place to go.

3. The Okinawa Purple Sweet Potato

It’s a potato. It’s purple. It’s grown on Okinawa. They are mildly obsessed with this vegetable. They sell it in Kokusai street in the form of bread. It’s as if a sweet potato went on a diet and changed it’s hair color. But it has a lot of nutrition and vegetarians around the world swear by it.

4. Busena Underwater Observatory

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The underwater observatory is located in Bankoku Shinryokan in Nago City. The observatory is 5 to 7 meters below the surface of the water.

5. Scuba Diving

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Okinawa is known for its open ocean and deep sea scuba diving. There are many places to get licensed to scuba dive. But, be careful you can find yourself swimming with poisonous sea urchins.

6. Coco Curry

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One of my favorite places to eat at on Okinawa It is not native to the island but it is a must try. In the U.S. Coco Curry is only located in the west (boo!) The first time I touched down in Tokyo I was told about the flavorful awesomness and how delicious and budget worthy this place was.

7. Kokusai Street

IMG_20150208_132524182[1]Kokusai has been compared to parts of California.  Every Sunday they shut Kokusai St. down for tourists and those who would like to get their shop on in an Hollywood like environment. The Japanese word Kokusaidori translates to International Road.

8. The Okinawans

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The native Okinawan boys.

They are some of the most friendliest people in the world. While roaming the beaches with my friend, we were invited to join in on a traditional wedding. They invited us simply because we walked by, waved and smiled.

9. The food

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Japanese dumplings and Fried Rice

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Bakeries on Okinawa.

Specifically, the bakeries. Bakeries on Okinawa are located everywhere but to be more specific you can find them in the local malls Aeon or the local farmers market.  They are yen-friendly as well. You can purchase about 10 items under 3 U.S. dollars or 300-yen.

10. It’s history

As a history buff I made it one of my goals to visit historical monuments, museums, shrines and temples at least once a week. Places I recommend include:

Shurijo Castle:

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The kingdom’s political and ceremonial center, with government and artesiana residing in the surrounding areas.

Zakimi Site:

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Built in the early 1400 by architect and feudal warlord Gosmaru of Chuzan, this site was used by the Japanese army as a missile base during WWII.

Rukyu Glassware:

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The glassware was created with the use of old soda cans from World War II. It is a popular go-to glass gift for many tourists.

 

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My first visit to the Biltmore

A blog chronicling my time, at the largest home in the U.S., will follow shortly. Until then, please enjoy some photos of the estate.

 

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Nelson Mandela International Day

NELSON MANDELA

Happy Nelson Mandela International Day!
In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared today Nelson Mandela International Day.
The day honors former South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela. It also recognizes his contributions to the culture of peace and freedom.

OurBRIDGE: Empowering Refugee And Immigrant Children In Charlotte

Children from war-torn, economically and environmentally disadvantaged countries find comfort at ourBRIDGE, a non-profit after-school program in Plaza Midwood. Sil Ganzo, native Argentinean and founder of ourBRIDGE, said children can “embrace who they are, be confident, improve their self-esteem, and have help with English, and their homework.”

The nonprofit provides an inclusive and welcoming environment. Within the four colorful walls decorated with the children’s drawings, they are free to play and learn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related concepts while coping with a new culture, social expectations and exploring their surroundings.

Ganzo founded ourBRIDGE in 2014 after working for a similar for-profit company, In Goode Co. “The owners decided to close the center,” Ganzo said. “I decided to transform the idea for a non-profit. I wanted a cultural and social, emotional component.”

Charlotte is the biggest refugee resettlement city in North Carolina, welcoming 600 refugees annually. The children enrolled at ourBRIDGE are the faces of 40 countries, each equipped with diverse cultures, traditions and languages.

ourBRIDGE services include chauffeuring children from school and home, providing homemade snacks, and individual English and STEM tutor time. Additionally, students receive social and emotional support which include teaching them basic American societal behaviors, as well as experiential learning, where children interact with the community. These services are offered to immigrant, refugee and first-generation children living in nearby neighborhoods.

ourBRIDGE offers an open space to have in-depth conversations about significant events, such as the recent presidential election. Many students asked Sil, “Do I have to go home?” and “Are my parents going to get kicked out?” Volunteers baked an “everything will be OK” cake, a small gesture that made a huge impact on the children.

Originally posted on my blog at theodyssey.

10 Reasons to Visit Chile

If you have never visited this lengthy country then here are 10 reasons you should. From its desert and beaches to its mountains and small “Antarctica” you can find something to do or someone to meet in Chile.

1. Pisco Sour

The delicious sweet and sour drink is popular among Chileans and tourist alike.

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2. Chileanos

There’s nothing better than meeting Chileans who can shape your experience there.

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3. Patagonia

An 8th world wonder.
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4. Empanadas

My favorites is shrimp empanadas which you can find on the coast of Chile.

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5. Chorillanas

Fries with onions, eggs, and meat piled on top makes for a delicious snack/meal anytime.

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6. Mountains

In Santiago, the capital, there are many mountains to scale.

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7. The Dunes

Located on the coast of Chile these dunes are where memories are made. Grab a makeshift board and paddle down them.

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8. The History

Chile is filled to the brim with amazing history. You should consider visiting Pablo Neruda’s three houses or Valparaiso, where there are multiple UNESCO sites.

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9. Completos

Feel complete with completos or a hot dog underneath avocado and mayo.

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10. Street Art

Located on nearly every corner is street art, more predominantly political street art murals) that tell the stories of thousands of Chileans.

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MY RE-ENTRY STORY INTERVIEW WITH SMALL PLANET STUDIO: GOING “HOME” AFTER JAPAN AND CHILE.

Traveling has always been a passion of mine. I have daydreamed about going abroad since high school. It became a reality after my parents moved to Okinawa. Then I had the opportunity to study in Chile for a semester. But I will admit I have never thought about the re-entry process and how to re-adjust to life after being abroad. Many of us may feel alone because we do not have anyone to share our story of being abroad with. Traveling can change your perspective of globalism and change who you are as a person. There are many re-entry conferences throughout the U.S. These conferences makes it easier to find like minded people.

I attended a re-entry luncheon with my university. They offered us advice on how to use our newfound skills when job searching. Although they gave great advice on how to land a job I still felt distant. That’s when I decided to enter a drawing to win free tickets to the re-entry conference in Greensboro. I was able to be part of a larger and more diverse community of people who have been abroad. I told my story of being a woman and black abroad and the challenges I faced.

As you can imagine, I am full of travel stories and decided to share them with my friend Cate Brubaker. About a year ago, I met Cate at the re-entry conference in Greensboro and she shared with me her passion of travel and re-entry. This is our Q&A interview below.

 

HI BRIANNA! WHERE WERE YOU ABROAD AND WHAT DID YOU DO THERE?

I had the opportunity to frequently visit my parents in Okinawa, Japan over the course of two and a half years. While visiting my parents, I would engage with the local community by eating at their Mom and Pop shops, exploring their traditions and cultures, and taking tours of historical landscapes.

In addition to traveling to Japan, I studied abroad for a semester in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, Chile. While in Chile, I volunteered with many different nonprofit organizations. I felt the need to give back to the country that had taught me to dance Salsa, to make Completos (which is a hot dog with tomatoes, avocado and mayo oozing on top), and taught English to university and elementary-aged students.

I also volunteered with Techo, a nonprofit similar to Habitat for Humanity. As a volunteer I had the opportunity to sleep and work in the hottest, driest desert in the world, El Atacama. Another nonprofit I volunteered with as an English tutor and a surf guru was Valpo Surf Project. With this nonprofit I learned how to surf and taught surfing in the freezing waters of Con Con.

WHEN DID THE IDEA OF RE-ENTRY GET ON YOUR RADAR? DID YOU HAVE ANY RE-ENTRY PREPARATION, TRAINING OR DEBRIEFING?

As a child of a Marine, I have constantly moved every two to four years. At this point in time, I knew how to re-enter my “home” society – or at least I thought I did. When I was in Japan, I fell in love with its beauty and its people’s culture. But, after returning to the United States I readjusted quickly. I cannot say the same occurred when I arrived “home” from Chile.

I have had thoughts of returning to Chile since the day I left. Unlike in Japan, I became friends with the locals in Chile and we created many memories. While volunteering with Techo, I met my hermanita (sister in Spanish) Francisca. We had an instantaneous connection. Although my Spanish was intermediate she took the time to explain everyday situations to me and helped me practice my Spanish. Over the course of my remaining two months we frequently travelled to other places in Chile including Concepcion and Los Angeles, two cities in the south of Chile, and Papudo, a city where the sea and land meet – or at least that is what I coined it.

The idea of re-entry occurred to me when my university’s study abroad office offered a re-entry program for those returning from studying abroad. I decided to go and learn about how I can use my experience of studying abroad in the workforce, on my resume, and in interviews. I enjoyed participating because it prepared me for and helped me get over reverse culture shock.

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WHAT WAS YOUR RE-ENTRY EXPERIENCE LIKE?

The day I re-entered the U.S. my friend and I went to a fast food restaurant. When I attempted to order I said, “Yo quiero…” this is how you order food at restaurants in Spanish. I had forgotten how to speak English because I was constantly speaking Spanish to my friends and host family in Chile. I was embarrassed and nervous that I would not remember my native language. It did take a while to transition but it was a successful one. I surrounded myself with my extended family and frequently ate at Mexican restaurants. At those restaurants I would practice Spanish with the waiter or the owner.

WHAT DO YOU KNOW *NOW* ABOUT RE-ENTRY THAT YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN EARLIER?

I wish I would have known about reverse culture shock before returning. I was a little shocked by some of the social etiquettes we have in the South. For example, I eat with a fork and knife at every meal, a technique I thought was observed for the Europeans or at fancy restaurants. I am also more direct with requests and in speaking with others in lieu of “beating around the bush”.

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WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ARE ABOUT TO GO THROUGH RE-ENTRY?

Here are tips I have for those who are re-entering the U.S.:

  1. Continue to practice your language skill if you gained one.
  2. Be engaged with your local global community.
  3. Find others who have similar experiences to talk about them with. Most people find it difficult to talk to their friends or family because they have changed while others may have remained the same.
  4. Become a source of information for others interested in going abroad
  5. Use what you learned abroad and apply it to your everyday life.

AND… JUST FOR FUN: IF RE-ENTRY WERE A FOOD WHAT WOULD IT BE? WHY?

If reentry was a food it would be a tart. Tarts are bitter to the taste, but sweet in the end.

Here is the link to my interview and Cate’s website if you are interested in learning more about re-entry and Small Planet Studio.