Category Archives: The Soapbox Chronicles

The Soapbox Chronicles: Foreign Languages In The US

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

 – Nelson Mandela

::Steps onto soapbox.:: Ahem. Is this thing on?

In my building, there is this cute old Spanish speaking couple that I have come to love. The woman is kind enough to bring any packages she finds of mine to my door, and the man is so friendly and strikes up conversation with me in Spanish when we pass each other in the hallway. I rarely have the opportunity to practice my Spanish anymore, so I love our talks and also appreciate his patience if I stumble with my grammar. It reminded me of how envious I was of many of my classmates who already had an arsenal of various European languages under their belt. And there I was, perpetuating the stereotype that Americans can’t speak other languages fluently outside of English. Grr-eat.

It’s not that I don’t know any other languages. I studied Spanish for six years throughout high school and college and even did a semester abroad in Madrid where all my classes were in Spanish. That being said, I would prefer to have another immersion or intensive course as a refresher. And I know a lot of other people who would fall into this same category, perhaps because we didn’t have the opportunity to learn foreign languages from a young age like many of our European counterparts. Of course I’m not talking about Americans who have grown up speaking a second language at home. But to put it in perspective, only about 18% of Americans say they speak more than one language, versus 53% of Europeans. Which begs the question, “Why hasn’t the US done more to change this?”

I think there are several factors for this. One recent issue is school budget cuts, where educators are forced to take out entire departments that don’t seem as necessary. As of 2008 only 25% of elementary schools in the US taught foreign languages (I couldn’t find more recent data but would love to hear updated stats.) So that means the best options for children who aren’t learning directly from their parents would be through private school educations or tutoring, or online apps which I will get to at the end of this post. And while the numbers are higher for foreign languages taught in high school and college, think about the greater potential kids have for fluency if only they could start learning from elementary level. And then think about how that could radically change things for the country as a whole. Oh, another reason? Some may say that English is the language of the global economy so there’s not as much of a need to learn other languages. And true, Americans are fortunate to grow up learning English because from what I hear it is a challenging foreign language and you can get around pretty well if you know it. But the economy is always changing, and with developing countries becoming bigger who knows if English really will stay the dominant language. Regardless, with learning another language comes learning about a different country’s lifestyles and getting excited about wanting to see more of the world. It can lead to increased partnerships with entrepreneurs in other countries and more global career opportunities, or even just more confidence to explore and travel more. Undoubtedly it would result in less ignorance towards other cultures, and let’s not forget the pure joy of just being able to order a meal in the local language when you are traveling.

Earlier this month I read an article from Fast Company that mentioned how Washington legislators are trying to push computer programming as a language for high schoolers to meet college requirements. Partially because they feel that the current system of learning a foreign language at a high school level is not as productive, and a good part of their reasoning also supports the idea that language should be taught in elementary school where its more effective. While I am all for pushing computer science in high school, I wouldn’t want kids to opt out of the foreign language requirement either. I can say with certainty that studying Spanish in high school had a snowball effect in my life which resulted in having some amazing international experiences and being passionate about travel and other cultures. Even though the current system is flawed, there should be more emphasis on learning other languages in today’s super connected world.

But I digress…

To be honest, this post was supposed to be about fantastic online (and mostly free!) resources for learning foreign languages as an adult and even as a child. So I’m going to get to it, and also get back to Duolingo to continue practicing what I’m preaching.

::Steps off soapbox::

 

Online foreign language resources:

1) Duolingo – I use this one so I can vouch for the addictive and fun nature of this app. It’s FREE and the website says that 34 hours on the app is equivalent to time spent taking one university course. And how cute is their mascot??

2) Livemocha – Also free! This website is great because it relies on its community to help each other with their learning. For example, you can post an exercise of you speaking or writing online and native speakers can offer advice. Pretty valuable if you’re looking for some legit feedback.

3) Pimsleur – I also used this to learn some basic Italian before moving to Italy. It’s all audio and A LOT of repetition which is great for long commutes (although you will be repeating phrases out loud so you may want to avoid this on your subway ride home.)

*Bonus – Just heard about its sister app, Little Pim, with videos, books and apps for kids up to age 6. Perfect with what we were just talking about!

4) Babbel – Some people say Babbel is the most effective online app out there. It has similar tools to Duolingo like vocabulary and pronunciation, and a huge community as well. The first lesson in any language is free, and then there’s a monthly fee for unlimited courses.

5) Lingorami – Another free app. I haven’t tried this one yet, but from the reviews it seems like if you’re the type to be addicted to Candy Crush then you will like this as well. Right now it teaches Spanish, French, Portuguese and English and uses addictive games to keep you interested and learning. Considering its ease of use , it may be a good choice if you’re looking for something to help you brush up on your skills when you have sporadic downtime.

6) Memrize – Also free!  Memrize also has rave reviews and a component for teachers to use it in class. Oh, and for all your competitive types out there, it also lets you compete with your friends. Now I’m intrigued.

 

Parents! Soon to be parents! Aunts, uncles, godparents… you get the idea. I also found this great article that gives language learning app resources for those that want to teach their children new languages.

 

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All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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The Soapbox Chronicles: Why The World Needs Football

So the latest news is that Balotelli’s coming over to AC Milan and the Milan fans of the city are stoked. He is such a beast of the field. It’s fun to have a new player to talk about and get more people excited about football and going to games, and it’s coming at a pretty convenient time too…

I grew up in Cali playing soccer. Wait, rewind, I tried out tennis, basketball, the clarinet, the piano and soccer, but soccer was the only thing I truly loved. When I spent a term on an exchange program in Spain, I was thrilled to be a part of a culture that embraced The Beautiful Game, whereas back home soccer was not nearly as popular. My friends and I would get frustrated everytime a big match would be on but our favorite bars weren’t playing it, and I would constantly gripe that we should have been born in Europe or South America. But we eventually did find our football bars in NYC (where all the expats were hiding), and a few friends and I even joined a co-ed team on Friday nights. Of course, a part of me was still pretty jealous about all the football love going on in the rest of the world.

So naturally you can guess just how excited I was when I found out I would be living in Milan for a year while getting my MBA. Finally, I’d be among people just like me! I was so happy imagining going to games, reading updates about players in the newspapers, playing matches with my classmates….

Wait, what? Did I hear that right? Girls don’t play football in Italy? Back up.

Instantly my dreams were crushed. How come in a country where football is religion half the population doesn’t take part in the sport? I know that girls get into rooting for their favorite team and go to watch the games, but I’m surprised that there isn’t more active participation for women. Well, that needed to change.

As some of you may know, a few of us students decided to start up the school’s Football Club this year. Aside from weekly games, we also made it a point to have the first co-ed football tournament last term. It was so great to get back out on the pitch again. We had five on five games going, and I was reminded about what I love so much about the sport. No matter what current issues we had with any classmates, when it came to game time we HAD to work together. Crossing, calling for the ball, (willingly) passing, scoring, celebrating… all of the stress and frustrations that existed back in the classroom melted away. Business school is such a group-focused program, and even though during this time the goal (yay for puns!) is to learn to work better with people that have different styles and backgrounds, it doesn’t always happen as effortlessly as we’d like. But on the field, when it’s either work together or get beat down by the other team, I was pleasantly surprised at just how well the teams all united. And what was even more fun is that it was such a great opportunity to get to know my colleagues better, especially the ones that I am not currently taking classes with. High-fiving, commending each other on that great assist, yelling at each other to make a mad dash for the goal (in the most positive, supportive way of course!) – all of this sure beats catching up over drinks at aperitivo. It would be wrong for the girls to not be able to enjoy this, too!

So even though I wasn’t as thrilled back home with the lackluster appreciation for the sport, now that I look back on it I wouldn’t trade anything for all the practices, games, tournaments, and orange slices I’ve had growing up. It’s ironic that it took coming to Europe to realize how fortunate I am that football’s such a welcomed sport for girls in North America… now let’s see what we can do with Italy! More on the formation of the SDA Bocconi girl’s football team to follow!

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The Soapbox Chronicles: To The Dreamers

I was recently told by a guy that, in a nutshell, I’m too out there for him with my ideas of what I want to do in my life. He’s not the bad guy I make him out to be, but I’ll admit that I was a little thrown off by his statement. Isn’t ambition supposed to be a good quality?

I’m a dreamer! I feel that amazing things are almost within my reach and so I’m always on my tiptoes trying to grasp them. And perhaps mystery man was right in his poorly-chosen words because I am at the point in my life where I’m going after the things I want even though it may be at the cost of my love life. But outside of this dating context, who is to say that being a dreamer is a bad thing?

Dreamers go for it. They tend to face rejection more than realists who are not as willing to try new things, apply for new jobs, etc. Dreamers visualize where they want to be rather than just being content (or miserable) at where they are. Dreamers are often the faces of innovative start ups that dare to create something new and exciting. They take risks and they don’t need certainties to act, but yet they are certain that they need to try. And maybe the best dreamers are a bit grounded to a certain extent in that they see their limitations sure, but they also aim to break past it.

If you are speaking my language, dream on. Don’t be so concerned with toning down what you really want to go after. Be smart in your choices but be daring, be bold, be a little out there. After all, no choice is a choice and by not acting on your hopes you aren’t allowing yourself the opportunity to attain them.

::steps off soapbox::

Phew! Ok, on a personal note, my friends and family make up a healthy mix of both of these types by supporting me when I explore in unconventional ways and giving me a hard reality check when I need it. I hope you too have people in your life that will balance you out in only the best possible way:

 “There are dreamers and there are realists in this world. You think the dreamers would find the dreamers and the realists would find the realists but more often than not the opposite is true. You see the dreamers need the realists to keep them from soaring too close to the sun. And the realists, without the dreamers they might not ever get off the ground.”

Modern Family

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The Soapbox Chronicles: Owning The Solo Bar Night

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I’m a big proponent of solo travel. And obviously, with solo travel comes a lot of moments where you have to be comfortable by yourself whether it be at a restaurant, museum, bar, etc. However, while when traveling I typically force myself to go do things by myself, when I’m in my own city I often feel weird going places alone. This can definitely be said about the bar scene.

Sunday was a pretty brutal day: public transportation – 1, Priya – 0. Never take the bus to Woodbury Commons! And when I finally got back to the city all I wanted was a beer. And Blind Tiger, the bar on the corner, looked pretty damn appealing. So in the spirit of awkward solo moments, and to prepare myself for my upcoming Japan trip this week, I decided to head over and shamelessly have a drink by myself. Hey, it’s not like it’s date night!

What is it about women drinking alone that carries such a bad stigma anyway? No I’m not out patrolling for men, and no I don’t have my eye on the bartender either (Bayern jersey by the way, not bad!) – can’t I just want a good draught beer. And I must admit, the Allagash Four pint with the Man U match on in the background really hit the spot. It also helped that I had to walk all of 100 feet to get back to the apartment anyway. West Village, I love you.

Women, let’s own the solo bar scene – guys shouldn’t have all the fun.

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The Soapbox Chronicles: Taking a Chance On a Terrible Idea

Frances: Well I mean, who wouldn’t love to buy a villa in Tuscany. But the way my life has been going, that would be a terrible idea.

Katherine: Terrible ideas. Don’t you just love those.

Under The Tuscan Sun

Sure it’s a chick flick, but I love this movie and not just because there’s a scene in Positano. Guys, I wouldn’t blame you if you secretly love it too. It’s about a woman who was depressed and at a very low point in her life, and she took a chance on something incredibly risky and a bit scary and turned her life completely around. It made me think about how often times we let the realistic and logical side of ourselves keep us from experiencing some amazing things. Why are we so concerned about being realistic anyway? What’s the harm in dreaming big and having a few crazy, I-cant-believe-I-just-did-that moments in our lives? I could use a few more of those myself. And don’t we typically regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did?

Katherine: You have to live spherically, in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm, and things will come your way.

Last summer I was very undecided about whether or not to leave NYC for a few months and travel. One night, I was out at a bar with some friends, and I had struck up conversation with a girl I had just met. Out of the blue she drops into the conversation how her and her husband decided to leave their jobs and travel Asia for a few months. I couldn’t believe how ironic it was that she brought that up since I hadn’t mentioned that I was having such a mental struggle about taking my own career break. When I told her about my fear of returning to NYC and having difficulty in finding another job, she responded that they had the same concerns but they knew that they were smart and capable, and they were confident that they would land on their feet sooner or later. That girl will never know this, but that conversation may have been the tipping point in my decision to go. The decision itself is the hardest part after all, and I had put up obstacles out of fear. When you simplify things, ask why not, and have some faith in yourself, the decision suddenly becomes a lot easier. And now that I’m back in NYC and in the heart of that scary stage of returning to “normal life” again, I’m realizing that this is also part of the whole experience. I didn’t leave just to travel – I wanted to learn more, see more, and most importantly, be more in my life. And I’m still growing.

So maybe your “terrible idea” isn’t taking a trip around the world (and if it is, I hope you go!), but perhaps there’s something that you’ve been struggling with and can’t seem to fully rationalize. I feel that most of us can talk ourselves out of anything when we want to, but what about taking a chance on yourself, branching out and being a little more fearless in some of the decisions in your life. Live spherically.

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The Soapbox Chronicles: One’s A Party – Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo

Happy Valentine’s Day! Oh wait, are you one of the many people who don’t have a Valentine this year? Is this day, in fact, an annoying reminder of your single status? Well, don’t fret! There are many times when being single actually trumps being in a relationship, and traveling is definitely in the top 5 here. Some people are still wary of traveling solo, but if you ask me there are definitely pros to embracing your singledom (or just ditching the friends or main squeeze) and venturing out on your own. So next time you are throwing a pity party about how you wish you had someone to go away with, put down the glass of wine and start planning your next adventurous solo getaway. Here are some reasons why sometimes one’s a party and two’s a crowd:

1)     Freedom to choose your destination (and to change your mind)

Before I backpacked through Europe, I made a rough outline of the cities I wanted to visit and about how many days I would stay in each place. However, once I hit Prague, I realized that I wanted to change gears by skipping Budapest and exploring Kraków instead. If I was traveling with someone else, they might not have wanted to leave the confines of our Eurail pass or take the 10 hour train into Poland, and then I never would have seen Kraków, the Jewel of the Nation, or been silenced in awe by overwhelming Auschwitz.

Traveling solo also gives you the flexibility to plan your days how you want them. When I was recently in Paris I was so happy to skip the crowded tourist lines and instead enjoyed relaxing at the Luxembourg Gardens or having a lazy day with a baguette on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. I slept in when I wanted, and other days I got up at the crack of dawn to catch an early train. Not having to worry about what someone else’s ideal itinerary is makes the journey a lot less stressful.

 2)     Being forced outside of your comfort zone

The number of times I had to eat at a restaurant by myself when backpacking in a month is probably more than the number of times I’ve eaten alone over a span of years here in the city. And I’m not talking about hiding behind a book or magazine either. Sitting at a café with coffee or a glass of wine became one of my favorite parts of the day when traveling, and I soon grew to love the time I had to myself to sit outside and people watch. Sometimes this even led to interesting conversations with people around me who I probably would have ignored had I been eating with a friend. Eating solo is obviously just a small way to be pushed outside your comfort zone, but when traveling alone you often find yourself in situations where you need to be a little fearless and striking up conversations with people is just one part of it. Which leads me into my next reason…

 3)     Meeting awesome people!

I can’t tell you the number of amazing conversations I had with people I had just met, and how easy it was to meet people when I was traveling on my own. I remember first arriving into Madrid, Friday morning at 7am. I was exhausted, looked pretty scary, and was in desperate need of a shower. The hostel I had just arrived at was serving breakfast so I went over and grabbed some cereal and snagged a corner table. Within a few minutes, I was chatting with a kid from London, and that night I ended up going out with him and several other hostelmates around Madrid. If I can meet people in zombie-mode (note: I am NOT a morning person), then I think it’s safe to say that you can too.

It’s natural that most people are nervous of traveling alone – one of my biggest worries about traveling by myself is not having someone there in case something goes wrong. I’ve mentioned this before on here but I think it’s worth repeating: when I was traveling I was so impressed at how people in the hostel all watched out for each other. I think in our daily lives we get so wrapped up in our own circle of friends that we often overlook the kindness and friendliness of random strangers. It was so interesting to see how people that are from all different corners of the world can really come together so effortlessly when we are outside of our normal lives. They do say strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

Hostelmates out in Barcelona. Justin (to my right) and I hung out more in San Sebastian, and Şenay (left) and I had a fun day out in Amsterdam a week later.

4)     Self-reflection

I just wrote about this in more depth in my latest post, but I think self-reflection is one of the most impacting parts of the solo traveling experience. And it really encompasses all of the above things I mentioned.  I didn’t anticipate how much I would learn about myself by putting myself in unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, situations each day. It wasn’t always easy, and I had a few days where I did feel really lonely (especially in romantic Paris, ::shakes fist::) but in the end I was grateful to be able to have had this journey on my own.

If you have never done a solo journey, I highly encourage you to put it on your to-do list. It doesn’t even have to be a long-term trip either, you would probably feel rejuvenated just by taking a long weekend away somewhere closeby or a week off during Spring Break to volunteer abroad. And no, this isn’t something that is only for college kids or for those who are taking a gap year after graduating (why should they have all the fun?) so don’t limit yourself because you fear you are too old to be backpacking on your own. Enjoy, and make sure to tell me about your experiences!

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The Soapbox Chronicles: Self-Reflection & Rediscovery Through Travel

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

This week was the birthday of one of my closest friends. She, like many of my friends, is unhappy at her job. However, she’s having a difficult time grasping the work and as a result its really affected her self confidence and professional capabilities. The above quote reminded me of her.

I remember going to a few happy hours with coworkers while at my last job. The conversation eventually turned to real estate (I worked with a bunch of brokers) and I always felt tongue tied or that I didn’t have enough to offer. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do my job well – I was there for several years and felt that I was pretty darn good at what I did if I do say so myself – I just wasn’t able to be engaged by the topic. I remember feeling that I must just really suck at networking.

Fast forward to 6 months later where my life has become a little different. I left that job and spent a few months traveling, having the time of my life, and doing some major self-reflection. During those few months I also started engaging in the travel community through my blog and in other ways, and I realized that I wanted to pursue travel as more than just a hobby. When I returned to New York I wanted to hit the ground running and look for new opportunities in the industry. I connected to a few travel related events in the city, and I soon found myself wrapped up in long, fascinating conversations with people I had just met. The problem wasn’t that I was bad at networking or talking with people, but that I just hadn’t found an area where I could really shine.

I’m still learning a lot about the travel industry, but what’s important is that I found something that truly sparks my interest and where I can connect with others in a way that doesn’t seem, well, like so much work! The truth is that if I hadn’t taken a chance to step outside my comfort zone and explore other sides of myself while traveling, I may never have figured that out. And if you are in a job that doesn’t suit you then chances are you may have some doubts about your potential as well. If that’s the case, then I hope you’re not afraid to step off the beaten path and search for what’s right for you, or to take a career break, explore some other options and get your hands a little dirty. Hey, an around the world trip is just one way to find some inspiration – I can personally attest to that.

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The Soapbox Chronicles: Save The Postcards!

While browsing through some travel articles, I came across one that said that postcards are a dying breed and that people prefer to send texts or photo messages when traveling. It made me sad to think that so few people send postcards anymore – the only ones I seem to get nowadays are from my parents (which I still love, please don’t stop sending!) I sent out a good amount of postcards when I was traveling, but now that I think about it I wish I had sent out a lot more to all those people in my life that I care about and miss. A postcard is usually what, 50cents, maybe £1 or €2 if you’re in a tourist trap and getting ripped off, right? Note – never pay €2 for a postcard, unless its voice activated or something ingenious. But how exciting is it to get some snail mail with an awesome international stamp in your real life mailbox! I know I love it. So one of my goals for 2012 is to send more postcards when I travel: infiltrating my friend’s homes one fridge at a time. And please feel free to send me a postcard on your next getaway! It’ll get a front row seat in my kitchen and I’ll think of you every time I get a craving for some Ben & Jerry’s Fro-Yo, I promise.

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Giving Thanks – My Travel Thank You List

Happy Thanksgiving! Like many, I also like to spend the day reflecting on everything I am grateful for in the past year. However, with my 3 month international trip coming to a close in 10 short days, I thought it was fitting to specifically thank those who have helped me along this journey:

– To my Spanish family in Madrid, Ramon in Barcelona (thanks to Abi), Shirin’s notes on Paris, Bart in Belgium, Larissa in Amsterdam (thanks to Hallie), Robert in Berlin, Rob’s notes on Prague, Matthew in Poland (thanks to MaiLien), Urbano in Florence, Ale in Milan, Neetha in Japan, Hannah in Hyderabad, and Arun and Lydia in Chennai, THANK YOU for letting me crash with you, showing me around you awesome city and taking care of me, and/or just giving me some great tips on places to go or things to see. My travels have been incredible because of you guys, and I am blown away by how much people are willing to help me out, especially friends of friends that don’t know me at all.

– To all the amazing people I met while backpacking that will probably never read this, thanks for letting this solo traveler into your circle of friends for a bit and watching out for me. From girlfriends reminding me how to safely cover my drink in a club in Barcelona, to Cliff giving me photography tips in San Sebastian, to my Turkish friend Senay that I met in Spain reuniting with me in Amsterdam for an epic day, to a group of fun Aussies I met in Spain who always had my back, and a hilarious group of Brits that were studying in Beppu.. I had such a blast with everyone! And I didn’t even name them all. This trip has given me a whole new perspective on how kind, warm, and friendly people really are. Its easy to forget this when you are in the same daily routine with the same circle of friends (I know in NYC, meeting new people seems so daunting!) Hope to see you kids again soon (and I’m confident it’ll happen for some – Australia 2012 perhaps?)

– Thanks to my friends in Cali and NYC. Even though I’m sure some of you thought (and still think) I was crazy to quit my job and leave town so quickly, I’m really glad to have had your support with this. I also appreciate the many encouraging texts, emails, etc that I got from old co-workers and friends. Es gets a big thanks for helping me downsize what I was packing to fit into my small North Face backpack, and for being my emergency contact (and lawyer, if I need it!) Oh, and of course to Tim for deciding to join me for part of this trip in Japan – those 2 weeks were hilarious.

– Lastly, a big thank you to my parents for not freaking out when I sat them down and told them what I wanted to do and said “I hope I get your support on this, but I want you to know that if I don’t I’m probably going to do it anyway.” Sure, it took a little bit of time, and a lot of explaining and reassurance from my sis (thanks, Neefs!), but they eventually got on board with the idea and supported me throughout the months. Besides, I still blame them both for giving me the travel bug.

Sorry for the sappiness, but this was a big chapter for me and I relied on so many people throughout. And it is Thanksgiving so I can get away with it! Still more traveling to go though after India – December has a lot in store back in the States. 10 days left here in India, lets see what trouble I can get myself into.

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I Left My Cubicle for Moments Like These.

Hakone

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October 25, 2011 · 12:37 am