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.

So, You Decided To Teach Abroad?

Did you recently graduate high school and want to go abroad? Or graduated college and do not know your next steps, but are interested in going abroad? No, fret. There are multiple routes you can take to teaching English abroad including attaining a TEFL, TESOL, or TESL certification. These certificates can be attained online, in-person or abroad in countries like Thailand, Ecuador and more. So, what’s the difference between each program?

Well, from my research I have discovered the pros and cons. But first, let’s focus on what each acronym means and which route is best for you. It’s not necessary to be certified but can certainly place you in better schools, a bigger pay difference and you will be more respected.

TEFL – TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE:

This program provides the skills needed to teach English in a country where English is not the primary language such as Japan, Chile, or Russia to name a few. TEFL certification is globally recognized.

The minimum for a TEFL certification is 100-hours but 120 hours of TEFL training is commonly expected alongside a teaching practicum.

TESL – TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE:

The TESL certification prepares one to teach in an English speaking country to students whose first language is not English. For example, workers or recent immigrants or exchange students in countries like England, U.S., and Australia.

Careers that use TESL include language support and ESL teachers to name a few. This certification is relevant for those looking to teach English in their home country.

TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of another Language

This certification is relatively newer and encompasses both, TEFL and TESL. It allows you to teach English overseas or in a native-English speaking country. However, TESOL courses cover a broader range of topics in less depth.  TESOL courses are not as widely recognized and are sometimes incompatible with some curriculum plans.

Now, you understand the acronyms and main difference between  the three certifications. There are many programs online but not all are accredited. Stay tuned to know how to spot a good certification program.

 

Why I decided to go to Chile.

For many students studying abroad forms as a thought that becomes a reality – depending on their commitment to going abroad. Growing up as a military brat I knew I wanted to go abroad. Where? I had no idea.

Prior to choosing Chile I researched English-speaking study abroad programs. This was mostly because English is my first language and I figured adapting to a culture of English speakers would be easy. After looking at places like Australia, England and other similar areas, I decided I needed a challenge.  I wanted to study abroad in an unpopular, non-English speaking destination.

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The outside of Pablo Neruda’s house at La Isla Negra.

After researching the various programs within my university’s education abroad department, I was unable to find a study abroad program fir for me in South America.  In order to reduce my choices, I created a simple criteria.

  • The location of my housing had to be near the coast.
  • The country had to have Spanish as its native language.
  • I preferred to be in South America.

I choose to go top school in Valparaiso, Chile with the Academic Programs International (API). Many blog writers described this destination as magical, “the Jewel of the Pacific.” After reading many travel blogs and API’s blog, I knew this was the place I wanted to learn and speak Spanish. Not only did API offer me the opportunity to be a part of Valparaiso, the program also allowed me to live in Vina del Mar, Valparaiso’s sister city. I got to experience the best of both worlds. Valparaiso, one of the South Pacific’s most important seaports decorated in political murals. The other, Vina del Mar, a city of fresh sea food, clear ocean waters and a beautiful skyline.

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Studying abroad in Chile allowed me to appreciate knowing a new language. Having the ability to communicate with people from another language background is a spectacular and inspiring feeling. I met my hermanita, best friend, through Techo. Her name is Francisca or Fran for short. Fran helped me navigate through Santiago, the capital of Chile. Although she is a native Chilena, Fran she had never traveled outside of her pueblo, or community. We went on many adventures together throughout Chile. Having Fran by my side made me feel empowered, adventurous and wholesome. My favorite destination was Papudo. It is a magical place where land meets the sea. . To most Chileans, this place is a dull town. The shops close early, and lights are out before 9, but at night, its secrets shine the most. This town was blessed with a magical, beautiful beach. Words cannot describe the feeling of amazement that overcame me when I laid eyes on this beach, when I set foot on the sand. After four months of being in Chile, I felt most at home on the beach of Papudo.

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Me at Pablo Neruda’s house in La Isla Negra

While I did have the time of my life, I did face obstacles. As a young African-American abroad my experience differs slightly from everyone else. I have a deep brown skin tone and black, curly hair with black features. I went abroad to a country whose population consisted of people with European-like features. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Sometimes I attracted unwanted attention. Men would whistle at me as I walked down the street. I had to do my best not to make eye contact. When I walked onto the bus older people would stare me down as if I were an animal in a zoo. I never once experienced discrimination or racism, but the feeling of being looked at in ’awe’ is not a good one. But, nonetheless my experience in Chile was eye widening and thought-provoking. When I am able to afford to go back to Chile, I will too.

Kokusai Street

Kokusai haIMG_20150208_132940071[1]s been compared to parts of California. After
being here for a little over 8 months I decided to see what all the talk was about. Every Sunday they shut Kokusai St. down for tourists and those who would like to get their shop on in an Hollywood like environment. After doing a bit of research on the Japanese word Kokusaidori, it translates to International Road. That is even more the reason to check this street out. I recommend going on a Sunday. Sundays are known as “Fun Days”, normally they have different events and sales going on. I decided to try the infamous Okinawa Purple potato. Which is similar to sweet potato. Below are some photos I took throughout the day. 
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Restaurant Review: Coco Curry

coco outideThe other day I finally caved in and tried the infamous curry powerhouse in Okinawa, Coco Ichibanya known better as Coco Curry. The first time I touched down in Tokyo I was told about the flavorful awesomness and how delicious and budget worthy it was. My military friends brag constantly, some even go as far as to eat at this place once or twice a week. In the beginning I was skeptical of these reviews. My first thoughts were, “Maybe they have never had Indian curry?” You see a couple of weeks prior to departing for Okinawa I had my first taste of Indian curry and shortly after I feel in love. My other thought was they are most likely not use to fine cuisine. I went to the Coco’s closest to the Marine Corps base Foster. Prior to departing my own home I researched more reviews on the best Coco location. It is quite funny actually. While we have a Mickey D on every corner, Okinawa has a Coco Curry on each corner of the tiny island.

cooc sign

When I first entered the restaurant the smell of spicy curry hit my nostrils and at that moment I knew I was going to enjoy the food. The night before I messaged some of my friends who are known regulars and they gave me advice on what to order and the spice level I should consider. 

 

Chicken cutlet on top of a bed of white, sticky rice with a side of level one spicy curry.

Chicken cutlet on top of a bed of white, sticky rice with a side of level one spicy curry.

 I ordered the chicken cutlet with a spice level of one. And boy when I tell you it was spicy, I mean it was spicy. There is a pitcher of water located on the table which I used quite often. After each bite, I needed to drink a whole cup of water. This is spice level one! How could it be so spicy? And delicious?

 

g&c naanOnline it stated that the meal would come with two servings of rice. It was more than enough. The rice was topped off with the chicken cutlet that was fried Japanese style. I also ordered a side of garlic and cheese naan. I did not have the chance to try their dessert. Maybe next week? Because yes, I am not a regular.

 

Menu you can expect at the restaurant (click here for online)

coco menu

 

   End Results

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 This restaurant takes yen and American dollars. 

Review: Hotspots on Island

Since being stationed on Okinawa I have tried my best to go on weekly adventures across the island. I would like to share with you some places I have gone to in the past month or so. A few things I would like to say are I book some of my trips via ITT on Foster or Kadena. This company organizes trips locally and internationally. Say for example you would like to visit Australia, which is quite common; you would talk to an ITT representative so they can tell you their options. However, if you would like to plan these trips on your own go right ahead. I personally believe ITT is useful and convenient. You sign up for a trip and from there you wait until that day comes and board a bus to the destination of your choosing.

With that being said, allow me to give my personal experience on some of the hotspots on Okinawa. If you are familiar with the festivals on island you know that the Cherry Blossom festival in Nago began this weekend. I will be attending the festivities with ITT next weekend. Watch out for my review on that event.

If you are a history buff (like myself) then you would be interested in visiting historical sites such as the Zakimi ruins and Shurijo Castle (check out my time at Shuri Castle here).

Zakimi Site

Built in the early 1400 by architect and feudal warlord Gosmaru of Chuzan,IMG_20140718_103716641 this site was used by the Japanese army as a missile base during WWII. It has been recognized as a National Treasure since 1972. The castle’s double wall and stone arch gate are the oldest on Okinawa and they’re still standing strong to this date.

IMG_20140718_103420418 I went to Zakimi with the Airman and Family Readiness Center on Kadena. It was apart of their newcomers tour, but most importantly it was free. This is just one of the perks of being new to Okinawa. Parts of the Zakimi wall were off-limits. It is quite high up and you can look down and see the rest of Okinawa.

 Location: Yomitan Village

Family friendly: Yes!

 Shurijo Castle

IMG_20140713_095228933The actual construction date of the castle is unknown, but believed to be built between the 13th and 14th centuries for the use of king Satto of Urasoe Castle. After the unification of the Ryukyu, Shurijo Castle became the kingdom’s political and ceremonial center, with government and artesian residing in the surrounding areas. It remained the center of government until 1870 when the Meiji emperor annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom, naming it Okinawa Prefecture. During the Battle of Okinawa the castle was destroyed, but it was rebuilt in 1992 and became a national park.

Visitors are allowed to see this castle for free, except for the main compounds and where the Ryukyu kings laid to rest. I visited the Shurijo Castle with the ITT group. The castle is quite large. Before you reach the beginning of the castle you will see a large clock, with no numbers. This is because the sun was used to tell the time during this period.

Location: Naha City

Family Friendly: Yes

 If you have an appreciation for the fine arts and cultures of Japan think about visiting the Ryukyu Glassware and viewing how the unique and colorful glass is made or take a drive back in time to Ryukyu mura. The Ryukyu Mura is a place to see how their pottery is crafted.

 Rukyu Glassware

IMG_20140718_131013979The Ryukyu 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. My family and I had the chance to see how this unique glass was created. I can not exactly tell you the process. I believe they melted glass in a oven that was extremely hot and created the design themselves.  It is quite a view and the product comes out beautiful. If you are interested in pottery you should check this place out. Their products are budget-friendly and homemade.

 Location: Itoman City (Southern Okinawa)

Family Friendly: Yes, children enjoy watching the material being made

 The Ryukyu Mura

 The traditional Okinawan design and lifestyle are replicated in this miniature theme park. To take a blast n the past and see how the Okinawans used to live, visiting this place is a must. Towards the back of the theme park you can see how their pottery were originally made and you can purchase goodies form a tiny shop.

 Location: Central Okinawa

Family Friendly: Yes

 Resort and Paradise Up North

IMG_20140720_101946020 If you want to take a break from traditional and historical visit the Northern area of Okinawa. It has resorts and man-made beaches. Yes, I said it man-made beaches! *gasp* but they are still beautiful. The water is crystal clear and if you take the Busena Underwater Observatory tour you are sure to see everything down under. Including unknown species….or at least unknown to me.

 Busena Underwater Observatory

 IMG_20140720_103951986The underwater observatory is located in Bankoku Shinryokan in Nago City. The observatory I situated 5 to 7 meters below the surface of the water. It is where I found Nemo and his father! And saw a couple of star fish.

 Location: Nago City

Family Friendly: Yes

 Join me next time as I review the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Follow my foodgram @onlyherefornakedfood for delicious Okinawan food.

Gallery

Life on island.

Quick update on my adventures on island via photos. The first two photos you see are taken near the seawall. My favorite place to relax and enjoy the sea breeze. While getting my financial guarantee notarized I snapped a photo of an old, historical Quonset Hut. This Hut was used for nearly everything, including work offices, chapels and medical facilities. It is also the last of its kind on the Kadena Air Base. Also Mcdonald’s finally got their shipment of fries because they gave us a medium set. (haha)

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