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I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a [blogger]

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So you’re setting off on your next big adventure. Maybe you’re completing a destination TEFL practicum, getting ready to teach abroad, returning to a former host country, or simply putting your desk job behind you to jet set for a bit. Whatever the case, you might be thinking about starting a travel blog.

For me, blogging has played an important role in my experiences abroad. For starters, it’s helped me keep my friends and family up to date without having to call and break it down for each individual. A blog provides more than enough detail to ensure loved ones that you are safe and sound.

Blogging has also helped me on a personal level: processing and flushing out feelings, acknowledging personal growth as well as personal struggle, and connecting with a larger community of travelers and bloggers. And the best part is that all of this is forever preserved online. There is nothing like going back to a blog post from a few years ago and reading exactly what you were thinking and feeling in that moment (and maybe cringing a little at how sappy you were).

In addition to writing my own blog, I’ve also poured over countless others in attempt to decipher what works and what doesn’t. I was surprised to find that although travel bloggers are experiencing the most exciting times of their lives, that a lot of of them still fall flat. How can this be possible?!  

It doesn’t take much digging to realize that lackluster blogs all suffer from the same maladies, which for the most part are easily curable. You don’t have to be a professional to write a great travel blog, but you should follow some universal guidelines to make sure that your blog really packs and punch! Some of the best blogs I’ve read are also the most modest in size and following, but were consistently engaging nonetheless.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up from reading these blogs:

  1. 1. Show, don’t tell! This rule was likely seared into your memory somewhere between the fourth and sixth grade but should really be reinforced to travel bloggers. Remember, you’re a blogger, not a historian. Chances are that unless they live under a rock, your followers can plainly see where you are and often where you are going via social media. So scratch that tedious chronological recaps and dig into some juicy detail.
  2. 2. Ditch the five paragraph essay! I know, it can be scary going beyond the traditional “intro, body paragraphs, conclusion” format but at some point we all have to ween ourselves off those English 101 comfort objects. I’m not suggesting that abandon all forms of structure, only that unconventional structures are not only okay, but way more interesting to read. 
  3. 3. The backspace button is your best friend. This sounds strange but the most useful tool in your editing toolbox is probably the delete button. My suggestion is to find all the places where you could delete words or phrases without compromising the meaning of the text—and then delete them! Redundancy and wordiness are big no-no’s for any writing style and especially in blogging. This is one major way to cause readers to disengage. 
  4. 4. Stream of consciousness works. Even if you’d never heard of this writing style, you pretty much already know how to use it—unless you talk like a robot. Stream of consciousness writing is the imitation of the spoken language in written form, which “depicts the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind.” This lends a more human quality to your writing and allows you to better showcase your personality. I love reading blogs where I feel like the author is talking directly to me—it’s inclusive, entertaining, and often hilarious!
  5. 5. Travel blogs are not always about travel. It’s not the most intuitive suggestion, but I wouldn’t make your travel blog all about travel. Although logistics are sometimes necessary in establishing context, I am personally always more interested in the blogger’s emotional response to a foreign place or culture. I understand that it’s not easy for everyone to wear their heart on their sleeve (or should I say homepage?), but allowing your emotions tell the story often leads to more intimate and unique blog content.

Of course there is not one right way to write a blog. If there were, all of them would look and sound the same. Keeping these five tips in mind, be careful not to abandon your personal blogging style and even more careful not to try to carbon copy someone else’s’. No two blogs should ever be the same, but all bloggers should write with clarity, authenticity, and creativity.

To check out my personal blog as well as some of my favorites, check out the links below:

This Little Piggy (my blog): https://hammyem.wordpress.com/

Hannah and Julie: https://www.facebook.com/hannahandjulie/

World Towning: http://worldtowning.com/blog/

Vagablonde: http://www.vagablondebasecamp.com/my-story/

Present Perfect: https://presentperfectblog.com/

Alexa Goins: https://alexagoins.com/blog/

Dreams Abroad: https://www.dreamsabroad.org/

After 70 Years, Teaching Abroad Matters More Now Than Ever

70th anniversary blog

Yesterday, CIEE celebrated our 70th Anniversary as world leaders in international, educational exchange. Board members, team managers, coordinators, temps, and even the brand new summer interns gathered in our newly updated facility in Portland, Maine to celebrate an extraordinary seven decades of cross-cultural bridge building. We extend our deepest gratitude to you, teachers, for helping to make it all.

Even though I am only an intern who started a mere four weeks ago, I’ve already come to appreciate what this company does and all that it stands for. Over the past seventy years, staff has come and gone, but one thing remains the same: CIEE’s dedication to fostering healthy international relationships and cross-cultural competence. Whether you’re a past participant or current staff member, we all are working toward these goals.

While CIEE has been around for a while now, our contributions to the international community are more important now than ever. Today’s contentious political climate proves that there has never been a more necessary time to send Americans overseas and host foreigners on our soil.

When it comes to repairing strained international relationships, diplomacy can only take us so far. Given the current state of government, it’s unclear how far that even is. This is why we must take it upon ourselves—as an organization and individuals—to strengthen our standing in the global sphere. The world must know that America as a whole does not stand for hate or intolerance. It is up to us to prove it.

As an international teacher, I understand that it can sometimes feel like you are making backwards progress. There were times that I felt like a complete failure when I walked into the classroom after months of asking the same questions only to say “How are you today?” and have my students enthusiastically respond with “It’s SUNNY!” These are the moments that you have to step back and remember why you decided to teach abroad in the first place.

While improving English competency around the world is critical to cross-cultural development, chances are that getting your TEFL certificate and moving your life overseas was not for the sole purpose of improving the English of foreigners. Most likely you did not go into this experience with the goal that your students would be fluent by the end.

On the contrary, I would bet that the majority of you in this self-selecting group set out on this path of greater purpose: to learn about, connect with, and grow a personal understanding of a foreign culture. By the end of your experience, you will have learned that this is a mutually beneficial and enriching exchange. Trust that this impact goes beyond a certain time and place. Your contributions in and out of the classroom will be remembered and utilized for years to come.

In honor of our 70th anniversary and in light of global politics, we must recommit ourselves to the future of strong international relationships. This means teaching English, learning foreign languages, immersing ourselves in outside cultures, and befriending locals in places we would have never imagined. In these commitments, there is plentiful hope for a more peaceful and tolerant world.

Congratulations to all on seventy inspiring years of international exchange. We cannot wait for many more to come!

5 Ways To Use Your TEFL Certification At Home

We know what you’re thinking: “If I invest time and money in getting TEFL certified, that means I have to go abroad to make it worth it.” While a TEFL certification can unlock endless ways to travel, we understand that not everyone is ready to pack up and ship out right after completion. 

If your readiness (or lack thereof) deters you from getting TEFL certified, we have one piece of advice: don’t let it. Of course you should get as much out of your certification as possible, but that doesn’t mean that you have to move abroad right away.

There are as many opportunities to use your TEFL certification at home as there are countries in this world! In fact, people who are qualified to teach English as a foreign language are needed on domestic soil now more than ever. Across the country, TEFL teachers bridge cultural divides between Americans and immigrants and help to foster more tolerant and harmonious intercultural relationships. In light of today’s political climate, it is up to the public sphere to achieve these goals.

So how can you use TEFL to contribute to society and without going overseas? Here are 5 ways to use your certification on your home turf:

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1. Assist English programs at your university.
There are thousands of non-English speaking students on campuses across the country looking to improve their language skills. You can use your TEFL certification as a student volunteer or a paid teaching assistant, which could help you pay your way through school!

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2. Teach at an English literacy program, school, or summer camp. You know what they say: just because you speak English doesn’t mean you know how to teach it. All of these types of programs constantly seek paid workers and volunteers to help foreigners improve their English. Your TEFL skills are invaluable in these specialized classrooms!

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3. Teach English online. Online English programs are more popular now than ever. Teaching through an online platform can help you to experience a country from the comfort of your own home. You’ll still get to connect with locals and learn what life is like through their eyes, all while helping them in a big way (and making some cash!).

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4. Utilize your cultural competence in any profession. It is no secret that international experience gives you an edge in the job field. They respect and seek out people who are interculturally competent in order to promote innovation and better interpersonal relations in the workplace. In an ever-globalizing world, being able to work with people from all walks of life is a must!

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5. Host international exchange students or work for an inbound exchange program. Living with a TEFL-certified host is a HUGE bonus in any exchange experience. While most host families help with English, they don’t necessarily know how to teach it. Plus, if you’re not ready to move abroad, hosting foreigners or working for an inbound exchange program brings the country to you! This can also be a great source of supplemental income.

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Just like that, we’ve eliminated all excuses to not get TEFL certified even if you're reluctant about moving abroad. Whether you’re not ready to live in a foreign country, haven’t saved enough money, or simply don’t want to uproot your life in the U.S., rest assured that there is ample opportunity to use your TEFL Certification right here at home. You can make a full-time career out of teaching English in the U.S. or use it to earn some money on the side.

Remember, your contributions in your home country are just as valuable as the ones you make abroad. We need you now more than ever, TEFL teachers! Help your country to create a more tolerant, accepting, and culturally competent world.

Impressions of Vietnam

The-Sea-Mountain-Vung-Tau-Clouds-Panorama-Scenery-1538102Vung Tau. Photo by Creative Commons Zero, 2016, via Max Pixel. 

“You know how it smells after it rains? It smells like that all time,” CIEE Alumni Emily Muscat says of Vietnam. It is this country that gave her the first big dose of wanderlust and ultimately led her to study abroad in Senegal with CIEE and later, teach abroad.

Emily was lucky to experience the countries in the relatively early days of American-Vietnamese exchange. In 1995, former President Bill Clinton formally normalized relations between the two countries after 20-years of severed ties. Ever since, Vietnam has enriched the lives of thousands of American teachers and travelers.

Although the scars of colonialism, war, and poverty still linger, today’s Vietnam has blossomed into one of the most culturally rich and visually breathtaking countries in the world. The country is now known as the land of pho and fairytale landscapes, a hidden gem of Southeast Asia.

Thailand 2Beach in Thailand. Photo by Arek Socha, 2017, via Pixabay

Emily remembers the country well. She spent time in the beach cities of Vung Tau and Nha Trang where she dipped her toes in crystal clear waters and explored ancient Buddhist temples. While in her base city of Ho Chi Minh, she took a spin on the always popular motorbike taxis. Anything goes on these things—chickens, families of seven, refrigerators, and anything else you can possible thing of that would conceivably carry using a motorbike! Although it didn’t exist back then, today motorbikes are used for Uber. Talk about an exhilarating morning commute!

Although she loved the energy of the cities, Emily’s favorite excursion was to Da Lat, located in the Northern region of Vietnam. The city is tucked into a lush valley surrounded by misty mountains, providing some of the most breathtaking views in the country (and relief from the high heat of summer).

Da latDa Lat. Photo by StockSnap, 2017, via PixaBay. 

Despite a once contentious relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, Emily was greeted with nothing but kindness and enthusiasm from the Vietnamese people. She has fond memories of volunteering in the communities and participating in local customs, especially mealtimes. She remembers one night when she and her group went to a local restaurant. The owners caught wind that they were coming and made a special effort to make them feel at home by preparing curry with chopped up hot dog! The gesture was sweet but she still preferred the authentic Vietnamese food. Her favorite dish was Bún chả (pictured below), grilled pork served over a plate of white rice noodle and herbs with a tasty dipping sauce. As you can imagine, Emily loves Vietnamese food to this day. 

Bun_chaBún chả. Photo by Tuhang, 2015, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tet holiday, the Vietnamese New Year is celebrated in fashion around the country. Generally, the cities are cleaned up and decked out with yellow flowers and awnings are hung all over the main street. The flowers brighten up the cities and put everyone in the holiday spirit! Teacher's day is also widely celebrated. Vietnamese and English teachers alike are showered with flowers, gifts, and love from their students. 

Although it’s been several years since her visit, no time can erase the impressions of this country. Emily says she can still smell the rain, feel the heavy air on her skin, and picture the landscape: white sand beaches, gentle rivers, and mountainous jungles. She will always remember the captivating sights, smells, and sensations of Vietnam.

Barcelona in Three Days

Hold up, Vicky and Christina (does anyone get this reference anymore?), you only have a few days in Barcelona and while some cities can be fun to take on without a plan, Barcelona is one of the places where you could spend a week and still only scratch the surface. It’s best to think this one through.

Last week, some of us from the TEFL Team spent a few days in this flavorful city for the launch of our Destination TEFL course in Barcelona. We’re already in love.

If you’re only working with a few days, sight-seeing an entire city can be overwhelming. For any tourist type, this guide will give you a good place to start. 

DAY ONE

Morning: Walking Tour

I’ll be honest: most walking tours drive me crazy. I don’t like being talked at or walking in a group of people whose outfits just scream “Rob me, I’m a tourist.” But the walking tour I went on in Barcelona was actually great! Even in spite of the rain showers and camera-happy tourists, I enjoyed myself and felt well oriented afterwards. I recommend going with Free Walking Tours - they have a lot of experienced locals as tour guides.

Afternoon: Food (duh)

I always like to take it easy in the afternoon, especially after a lot of walking. I recommend pulling up to a cozy tapas bar and sipping on some Sangria in the El Born district, a quainter part of town that might have you feeling less like a tourist. Your feet will thank you and so will your taste buds!

Night: La Rambla

It’s a rite of passage for any tourist to wander aimlessly along La Rambla, the famous main drag of Barcelona. Your tour, which starts at Plaza Catalunya will stop somewhere along La Rambla so you can show off some Barcelona trivia as you stroll down the main strip and take in the boisterous Catalonian culture.

Capture

DAY TWO

Morning: Museums

If you’re a history buff, Barcelona will have you geeking out. Hit up the museums in the morning when you’re well rested and hyped up on Spanish cortado (a shot of espresso with steamed milk). As far as museums go, I would recommend the Picasso Museum Barcelona. The exhibits are fascinating, and the space that houses them will have you feeling like you’re back in time—rustic, spacious, and a little bit eerie.

Afternoon: Park Guell.

When you Google images of Barcelona, this park is what you will see. Park Guell is an icon of the city and one that totally live up to the hype. You can explore a lot of the park without a ticket, but I would recommend spending the seven euros to access the Monumental Zone and check out the stunning mosaics (tip: skip the tour for this one). 

Evening: La Boqueria Market

If you couldn’t tell by now, I love food and drink. So it was love at first sight for me at this market and could be for you as well. Take your time strolling through, feasting your senses, and tasting everything—juicy olives, spicy chorizo, and fresh veggies. For dinner, snag a seat at El Quim De La Boqueria—best salmon I’ve ever had in my life (and that’s coming from a Portland, Maine native).

Park guell

Day 3  

Morning: Montjuic Castle

Get up early (that’s in Spanish time), grab a coffee, and head over to the Montjuic Cable Car. Honestly, the views from the ride up to the castle might be better than the castle itself—to put to scale, the castle is stunning. From there, you can see all of Barcelona and gaze out over that beautiful blue Mediterranean. Bring some snacks and something cold to sip on at the top.

Afternoon: Beach & Siesta

Since you’re running out of time, go ahead and kill two birds with one stone: Siesta on the beach! If you really want to blend in with the locals, you should crush a nap between the hours of two and five in the afternoon. And why not do it in style on the beach (don’t forget the sunscreen).

Evening: Food and Fun

Savor your last night in Barcelona. Take it slow, find some yummy paella, and try a craftily concocted mojitos at Mamaine. If you still have the energy and enjoy nightlife, there are certainly no shortages of bars and clubs where you can listen to music, chat with locals, and maybe even try your hand at dancing!

Beach

Whether you’re a student in the Destination TEFL course, a teacher on vacation from Madrid program, a study abroad student, or just a regular old tourist, Barcelona definitely will not disappoint. As the perfect get-away spot or temporary home base, Barcelona will have you dreaming of tapas and vibrant mosaics for days.

Have you been to Barcelona? What’s on your “must-do” list?  

TEFL to the Rescue: Classroom Problems Solved

This post was written by Zoe Sand, a TEFL Alumni and a Teach in China participant. 

Nervous about teaching abroad? Taking a TEFL course is the best way to boost your confidence before heading into the classroom. Speaking from personal experience, TEFL helped me land my first teaching English job without any prior teaching experience. Most importantly, it has helped me navigate tricky classroom situations. The best lesson I learned from TEFL was to “plan for Z.” In other words, be prepared for whatever problems may come your way. Since starting my teaching position in Shanghai, I’ve encountered several problems that I was well prepared for thanks to my TEFL training. 

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CIEE Teach in South Korea

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Top Phrases for Making Friends in China: Words for Having Fun (Part II)

This post is by Jennifer Rives, a CIEE TEFL and Teach in China Alumni and a current participant of our Teach in Thailand program. 

In preparation for teaching in China, you've probably found yourself digging through poorly written notes from your high school Mandarin class, desperately hoping to brush up on your Chinese. While your formal language training may help, it likely won't prepare you for the colloquial Chinese that you'll need to make friends. As a CIEE Teach in China alumni, I can help. 

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CIEE Teach in China, photo by Jennifer Rives

If you're reading this, you've probably already read Part I of this series and are already a pro at the six useful Chinese compliments I taught you. Great job! If not, I recommend you check out Part I before moving on. 

There may only be four phrases in this list, but speaking from personal experience, they will to make you quite popular with many young people in China. Whether you choose to use these colloquial phrases with your Chinese friends, coworkers, or your students, you are guaranteed to get a very cheerful, enthusiastic response.

Continue reading "Top Phrases for Making Friends in China: Words for Having Fun (Part II) " »

10 Tips to Prepare you for the Difficulties of Life Abroad

This post is by Zoé Paddon, a CIEE TEFL and Teach in Chile alumni

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CIEE Teach in Spain

If you’re reading this, you’ve decided to teach abroad. Congratulations! The hardest part is over. Deciding to live and teach abroad is a bold choice. We support you all the way.

You’re probably already making mental lists of all the things you need to do to prepare: apply for a visa, start looking for a place to stay, pack, get a phrase book for the local language, etc. Of course, there are the initial hurdles to overcome and there will be challenges along the way, but your program will help you with that and you’ll be amazed how quickly you adjust to life in your new country.

No matter how well you adapt, though, some things that may be easy back home may become a lot more difficult in your life abroad. Don’t despair! It happens to the best of us. To make your life a little easier, here are some tips to help you prepare for some difficulties down the line.

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Announcing Destination TEFL: Travel to Spain, Vietnam, and Thailand!

Destination TEFL

The plane landed on November 7 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The students arrived in the city, exhausted and jet-lagged, but none-the-less excited to taste real pho, ride a Vespa, and immerse themselves in local culture. They had spent over 20-hours on a plane to get there, yet the journey really took them 130 hours.

These students were the first cohort of CIEE’s Destination TEFL program. The new program combines both the flexibility of CIEE's 130-hour online certification course with the incomparable experience of teaching abroad. For the program, TEFL students will get to travel to either Vietnam, Spain, or Thailand for two weeks to complete their teaching practicum. After two weeks, they will return home with an accredited TEFL certification, 60-hours of assistant teaching, and an experience of a lifetime. 

Continue reading "Announcing Destination TEFL: Travel to Spain, Vietnam, and Thailand! " »

Top Phrases for Making Friends in China: Giving Compliments (Part 1)

This post is by Jennifer Rives, Teach in China Alumni and Teach in Thailand Participant

Have you decided to move to China to teach English with CIEE and start a new life in one of the world’s most culturally rich and diverse places? If so, congratulations!

As someone who has lived in China twice, I can assure you that you are about to immerse yourself in one of the most beautiful cultures I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Without a doubt, you will learn things about the global community and yourself that you could never have imagined you’d learn before.

With that said, moving to another country requires a lot of cultural sensitivity and personal adjustment. Sometimes, adapting to the norms and values of another culture can be overwhelming and downright stressful. During those times of cultural disequilibrium, a strong and supportive network of friends will help you to pull through. When I was feeling misunderstood or out of place in China, my Chinese friends were always there to cheer me up and remind me of my purpose and value as a TEFL teacher abroad. 

So now the big question is... How do you make friends with people in China?

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CIEE Teach in China, photo by Jennifer Rives

Continue reading "Top Phrases for Making Friends in China: Giving Compliments (Part 1) " »

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