Finishing the Grueling Paperwork:

So if you have read any of my previous posts about applying, you know that this hasn't been the easiest process, to say the least. My life has become a constant example of Murphy's Law but against all odds, I have successfully arrived here in Korea and will be starting work on Monday! But I'll get to that later.

After my whole "setback" that I wrote about before (getting put behind 6 weeks because my fingerprints for my FBI criminal background check were "too low of quality") I got my fingerprint done again at the police station (WAY more legit). I sent my prints back to the FBI and included a handwritten letter begging whoever read it to PLEASE try to process them as quickly as possible and that my job and essentially, future, depended on it. So maybe the FBI happened to be in their slow season or something, but I'd like to think that someone had a heart and sped the process up a bit because 3 weeks later, my background check was in the mail! 

So long story short, I emailed my agency, Footprints, telling them that I had all my documents and that I could pretty much start as soon as possible if a position became available - and what do you know, the next day, they emailed me back saying that there was a position in the same group as Nate (by the way, Nate was all set to go & would be leaving mid February to do orientation and then start teaching on March 4th).

Moral of the story? Stay hopeful and positive that things can turn around because it's always possible! Granted, I spent a good amount of time sulking and wallowing because I thought I hit a dead end - but I at least continued with the entire application process and it ended up working out! So thank you to my mystery hero at the FBI who helped me, you're a LIFESAVER!

So here it is future English teachers, EVERYTHING you'll need in order to get your visa and finally board that plane to your next adventure:
    Click HERE to be redirected to my new site - First For Everything - for information on all documents needed, booking a flight and packing. 

A Few Things I Miss AlreadY:

  • Target - mainly the overall concept of going to one, single store and purchasing everything you will EVER need. 
  • Vegetables - I don't know if it's not in season right now or WHAT, but the vegetables here are limited.
  • ANYTHING IN ENGLISH: Imagine going to a completely different city with no car, no map, no internet and essentially, no CLUE, whatsoever. One can use their basic instincts and common sense to navigate the town and find a shopping outlet or bar. Or you know, they can ask a nice-enough looking civilian for directions. Here in my new home, barely anybody speaks a lick of English and there are a lot LESS signs and words overall in my native language than I had hoped for. It has been an adventure in itself trying to figure out public transportation and interpret these crazy hieroglyphics to find a store that sells a curling iron (which has been unsuccessful, by the way). 
  • Internet on the Reg - need I say more?
  • Soft Mattresses - Apparently, Koreans enjoy sleeping on stiff boards (with no fitted sheets).
  • & of course, my Friends & Family. Miss & love you all! 
 
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Didn't someone say the best things in life are free?
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Amazing scenery in Fiji & Australia

For more, visit my new blog :)

 
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Singapore Skyline
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Marina Bay Sands Hotel
After being in the Philippines for a week and enduring the most wretched airport facilities in Asia, we arrived in the cleanest country in the world (or at least the cleanest in Southeast Asia) - Singapore! I've never been so happy to be in a first world country. Not that Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines weren't amazing, but I was just looking forward to not seeing massive cockroaches on a regular basis. Singapore is a very modern, small city-state south of Malaysia and above Indonesia. It's an incredibly wealthy state with a high GDP and third highest per capita income in the world. Unlike previous countries we were at, it is extremely clean, urbanized and developed.
We arrived at our "cheap" hotel, which was near $100 and considered cheap compared to the other hotels (such as the Marina Bay Sands - pictured above - which would easily be around $400 a night). Oh yeah - no more third world countries means no more $25 [clean] hotels, unfortunately.
Our time in Singapore was short and consisted mainly of walking around the Marina - which is where their main big city area is. It's also where the famous Singapore Flyer is - AKA the biggest/tallest ferris wheel in the world. This actually wasn't a traditional ferris wheel, which was slightly disappointing, but more of a giant room that rotates around the wheel very slowly. You walk through basically a little science museum for a floor or two until you board the giant rotating room and the next 30 minutes are spent looking out the glass walls to the entire country of Singapore (this country is TINY.) It's 165 meters tall and may or may not have been worth the $30 it cost, but we really couldn't go to Singapore without going on it. 
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View from the top
We walked miles around the city and came across a super modern outdoor theater on the water with a live band playing, a ginormous mall with a "Bellagio" type water show next to the bay, the unique Gardens by the Bay and an amazing art museum where we saw a photography exhibit featuring "Magnum Photos", whose mission is to "chronicle the world and interpret its peoples, events, issues and personalities." We spent a few hours here and saw various photographers' collections - ranging from photos of the urban, dark side of Tokyo, to portraits of people in desolate places in Poland. 
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That crazy white building behind us is the Art Science Center
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Gardens by the Bay
At night, the city is beautiful and there are tons of restaurants and bars to go to. We were semi-conned into eating at a seafood restaurant right on the river (one thing that's the same as the other countries in Southeast Asia - people are very pushy) but the two free drinks each made it worth it. We ended up deciding to go to Malaysia early, due to the costliness of Singapore and the lack of money that we had after 4 weeks of traveling. Singapore was just too expensive for us.
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Helix Bridge from one side of the bay to the other
We left Singapore around 11pm and boarded a bus that would take around 5 hours to drive to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We found this bus online and it cost around $25 - there are tons of different buses online ranging from standard "charter" buses (which we took - seats reclined far back and made it comfortable enough to sleep the entire time) to buses/trains with rooms that people can sleep in beds in. Those ones weren't too much more but we weren't too fussed over a 5-6 hour bus ride. 
After getting woken up twice in the middle of the night to walk through customs with our passports and luggage, we arrived at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur at around 5am to take a cab to our lovely 5 star hotel. The Le Meriden cost less than our cheap hotel in Singapore, which by the way, had the SMALLEST room I've ever been in in my life. The only thing that fit in it was a queen bed. No joke. 
Anyway, 6am was too early to check in so we worked out at the gym and enjoyed the ginormous pool, jacuzzi and waterslide outside until our room was ready. We were back in the glorious inexpensive part of Southeast Asia so this meant lots of room service slash food getting delivered to us. Not gonna lie, we were pretty exhausted from traveling and did NOT mind just lounging around our hotel for a couple days doing absolutely nothing :).
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KL probably had the worst weather throughout the trip but we didn't mind watching lightning storms from our room with a view like this. You can see the city through the fog in the back.
We still did attempt to check out the culture and luckily, we were located right outside the city next to the train station. The first mistake I made was my choice of attire. I didn't know that Malaysia had a HUGE Muslim population but I definitely figured that out instantly after boarding the train and having dozens of FULLY clothed women stare at me wearing a summer dress. Whoops. I definitely attempted to be more modest after that experience.
Nate and I went on a walking tour of the city to become a bit more familiar with the culture, which I absolutely would recommend. It's called the "I Love Malaysia Heritage Walk" and we went around the whole city and our guide showed us different landmarks and gave us a brief history for 90 minutes. There are different tour options and we just did the free Heritage Walk (limited spots so reserve beforehand!). 
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(left) Merdeka Square & the Sultan Abdul Saman Building on the left. (right) Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
We walked around their Chinatown and the Central Market and did some good shopping at their street markets and ate delicious local food - stingray and a claypot dish with rice and chicken. We shopped more after eating and in an attempt to buy a cheap DVD to watch at the hotel that night, we literally almost got Taken. Yes, Taken. We were on the main street of Chinatown shopping around and this guy asked if we wanted to buy some DVDs. Nate said yes and so this Asian guy leads us to these shops down an alleyway (not even a secluded alleyway - there were still a bunch of other shops there) and into his "shop". He wanted us to get at least 10 movies and we weren't down so we turn to leave and the entrance where we came in was now a wall. It was one of those little garage places where they can pull down the door and so they locked us in and kept saying that "customs" was outside so they had to close the door (AKA their van was driving up to kidnap us in). Nate argued with them and started trying to unlock the door himself until they finally let us out (where customs was NOT). Sketch.
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Shopping in Chinatown
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Waiting for our stingray & claypot dish to be made!
There were a couple amazing temples we saw as well. One, we accidentally stumbled across while venturing to Chinatown, called the Sri Mahamariamman. This temple was built in 1873 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia. We also went to the Batu Caves, which were limestone caves that had hindu temples built inside - you just had to climb the ridiculously tall staircase to get inside. Malaysia is extremely hot and humid, just like the rest of Southeast Asia, so this was an incredibly daunting task. It was somewhat worth it when we got inside. This temple is pretty trashed because it's super touristy. Still pretty cool, regardless.
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Temple & entrance to the Batu Caves
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Temple inside the limestone caves
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Staircase
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Sri Mahamariamman

Top Things to do in Singapore & KL, Malaysia:

If you're looking for....
CULTURE:
  • Malaysia Heritage Walks - amazing volunteer guides who love their country & give great walking tours
  • ArtScience Museum in Singapore (they had a crazy lego exhibit that was opening a week after we were there. We were suuuper bummed we missed it and are determined to go back to Singapore specifically for this exhibit)
  • Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur has amazing local food
  • Singapore Marina - great nightlife & tons of bars & restaurants
  • Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
SHOPPING:
  • Pavilion Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur if you want most name brand stores. Huge, GORGEOUS shopping mall but the prices are about the same as, if not more, than America.
  • Chinatown & the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur - right next to each other. Tons of cheap shopping along the street markets in China town where you can get ANYTHING. Lots of souvenir & novelty type shops in the Central Market
  • Shops at the Marina Bay Sands - just like a Vegas hotel with a river running through it, every designer store imaginable, live music and a casino
SITE SEEING:
  • Singapore Marina - amazing views of the city on the waterfront, such as the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel. I'm sure this hotel wouldn't have a terrible view either from its infinity pool on the roof. Walking around the entire bay has incredible views as well.
  • Singapore Flyer - panoramic views of the entire city. 
  • Malaysia temples - Sri Mahamariamman & Batu Caves temples
  • Petronas Twin Towers, KL - didn't get the most amazing view of these buildings because it was raining but pictures I've seen look awesome.
Goodbye Asia, until next time:)
 
This is a list of things we needed to get and how much it cost:

Getting things NOTARIZED with an APOSTILLE, TEFL online course & The Application:

For more information, please click HERE to be redirected to my new site, First For Everything.

The Setback:

For some reason, my fingerprints are extremely faint. Apparently it's genetic. That, or I burned them all off after serving in a restaurant for however many years. So I said that it takes the FBI around 6 weeks to get our criminal background checks after we send them our fingerprints. Well about 6 weeks after sending them (& also, the SAME DAY that I got offered a teaching position in Ulsan, Korea), I get an envelope in the mail with the worst possible news: The quality of your fingerprints is too low. Please resubmit new fingerprints.

So I'm sure you can do the math. Mid-November + 6ish weeks = Beginning of January = Just in time to get my background check sorted to start my new job. Mid-January + 6ish weeks = too late to take the job in Korea. All because of my non-existant fingerprints. I called the FBI and they said that my new prints can't be expedited and that they treat every request as a new request. And there's pretty much NO arguing/reasoning with the FBI. I got my prints redone today at a Police Station (I originally got them done at a UPS -- don't EVER get them done at a UPS for 2 reasons. a) This situation. b) They use actual ink, which can smudge, whereas police stations use these computers where you put your fingers on this machine and the computer records them, makes sure that they're legible & then prints them onto the cards as if they're ink). I informed the agency of my setback and they said that I won't be able to go in February but to try for the "last minute positions". 
So what have I learned here? Well there is absolutely no silver lining whatsoever, and the only thing I've learned is to not get fingerprints done at a UPS. Not exactly the fairy tale, love story, lesson-learning, epiphany-reaching kind of story. Sorry. 
Alright, let me try again.... I have learned that you can plan everything out exactly and do everything right but sometimes that's still not enough. But that doesn't mean you should give up trying or cry for a week straight (although crying for a day straight is absolutely acceptable). It's just one of life's hits that you'll look back on later and think, "I can't believe I came from there to where I am now". So now I've just gotta figure out the future "where I am now" part. It's still possible to go, even if I have to wait a few months or even a year. Everything eventually works out.
& on a last note: I hate you, UPS. That's all.
 
Nathaniel and I have only hit two out of eleven-ish destinations so far and already have a list of DO's & DON'Ts for flying. 

*When airlines say a MAXIMUM of 10 kilos, they actually mean 10 kilos. Not an extra 7 that we tried to carry on. If you're as unlucky as us, they'll weigh your carry-ons and they WILL make you get rid of the extra weight. We ran into this problem when flying Tiger Airways from Melbs to Gold Coast (our very first flight ha). We "got rid" of our extra weight and proceeded to the terminal with multiple shirts/jumpers on & loaded pockets. Do what ya gotta do. 

*What we learned from this mishap was to obviously pack lighter, and if you get caught in a situation like this, wear as much of the weight as possible. Hey, if 250 pound people can fly, then I should be allowed to wear half the wardrobe I brought.
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I made this chart for the carry-on requirements for the airlines we're using
*We had this supposedly brilliant plan to sleep at airports when we have an early flight the next day. Because who wants to pay $100+ for a hotel you're barely utilizing. So check out of your hotel, drop your stuff off at the airport & store it in a locker and bam! You have the entire day to do what you want, a place to keep your stuff and a (possibly uncomfortable) place to sleep without any accommodation costs!

*What you should make sure before this brilliant plan kicks you in the ass: is the airport open all night, enabling me to sleep indoors? At Gold Coast, the answer is NO. As in, we slept on the beach, again wearing multiple layers of clothes. Of course, if you also have a whiny boyfriend complaining about his legs going numb at 130am, you will not do much sleeping on the beach and will instead wait outside the airport until they open at 4am

*When flying budget airlines, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. So we booked all of our flights well in advance and got great deals. We paid about $65 a person to fly from Bali to Phuket via AirAsia. Unfortunately, flying budget airlines means they can change or cancel your flight and not do a damn thing to help you figure out what you should do about it. So goodbye $65 direct flight and hellooo $200 flight with a layover, causing us to lose half a day. And no, AirAsia (nor either of our travel insurances) did not pay the difference or give any kind of compensation whatsoever. They didn't even refund us so we're instead, having to dispute the charge via our credit card. 

*Budget airlines might cancel the entire service of flights from one city to another, like they did with AirAsia. Sometimes they'll just move your flight up 3.5 hours and completely mess up your schedule and cause you to miss the tour bus that you were planning on taking in the Philippines. Again, airlines like Tiger Airways, will NOT do anything to help you - such as changing to a different flight or giving you a refund. 

*If at all possible, fly more legitimate airlines. Unless you're bargain (aka broke) travelers like us and need to get the cheap flights. If you're like us, then my advice is to be very flexible with flights because they can always change. As in, don't book too many transfer flights where missing one where cause you to miss the other. Also, maybe spend more time in each place you're visiting to ensure you have sufficient time there in case situations like these happen. 

Summary of Dos & Don'ts:

*Don't check luggage - this will save you literally HUNDREDS of dollars
*Pack as light as possible! Weigh your carry-ons before you go to the airport. They don't always check but it's better to be safe than sorry!
*Sleep at airports when possible if you want to save money but always make sure they're going to be open. A lot of smaller airports will not stay open all night for domestic flyers (most airports will for all international flights). 
*Be flexible if you're shitty budget airline decides to screw you over. 
*Read your travel insurance coverage carefully. They may or may not help you get money back from cancelled/delayed flights. May as well try to make a claim regardless.
*Make an adventure out of every mishap because they'll never stop anyway and they make for good stories later:)

Now we're off to New Zealand, hopefully we don't hit any more bumps along the road!
 
Sorry, this page has moved. 
Click HERE to be redirected to "Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef" on my new site, First For Everything.
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Nate holding a giant sea cucumber!
 
After packing up our lives in Melbourne, we were off to our first stop of our 5 week holiday.

The 2 hour flight landed us in the beautiful, warm weather of Gold Coast. Our first stop was buying "Go Cards" at the airport, which are public transport cards that give you about a 20-30% discount off the regular rate (buying tickets up front on the buses) because we are excellent researchers and bargain travelers:) This made our 45 minute ride to Surfer's Paradise (where our hotel was) only $4.35, saving us a $75 cab.

We checked into our room at Vibe Hotel, which was a bit more than we wanted to budget at $120/night but it was worth it to be so close to the beach, shops & bars. And it also didn't hurt that it was a pretty nice hotel as well.

A two minute walk took us to the strip where everything was. We relaxed on the beach and got food before going out. There are always promoters out everywhere selling tickets to "Club Crawls", so we figured it would be a good way to check out all the nightlife.

The Club Crawl was worth the $25 we paid each, getting us admission to 5 "clubs" (which were more just fancy, small bars), a drink at each and food. Pretty sure I was the oldest one there (besides Nate) but it was still a good time, even though they slightly resembled frat parties.

Day two in Gold Coast was rainy the entire day so it consisted of a lot of relaxing, card playing (we're avid Rummy-players) and going to the bars again.

The next day was probably one of the best of my life because I finallyyyyy got to fulfill my dream of holding a koala!! We went to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary which was easily the best zoo I've ever been to in my life. We started with the "Koala Cuddling" and paid $45 to get three pics with Yani, the three year old koala girl. She was extremely friendly and surprisingly not heavy at all. She's not the smallest thing in the world and you would just expect them to be heavy but she was actually super light. The trainer let us pet her and hold her for a bit and we got some good pics with her. I've heard their fur is very coarse but she was really soft! This experience definitely solidified my goal of having a pet koala eventually. And I'm being completely serious.

After that, we did the Green Challenge. This was a fun little ropes course that they had set up in the middle of this rainforest setting. They unfortunately had the harder adult course shut down because it was too windy but the kids course was entertaining as well.

They have a huge area with about 40-50 kangas just hanging out where you can go in and feed them. They sell "roo food" for $2 so all the kangas come and surround you to eat. They also had a Lorikeet feeding and would give you a plate of milk and so the birds would come swoop down and sit on you and drink.

Overall, best zoo ever! And Gold Coast was a great and relaxing start to our trip:)
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Me & Yani:)
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View from our room!
 
Sorry, this page has moved.
Click HERE for "Teaching English Abroad: Step 2" at my new site, First For Everything.
 
One look at my iPhone weather app and I knew that this rare occasion of beautiful weather MUST be spent outdoors. The boyfriend’s mother is also visiting so this doubled as an excuse to make the trip to Phillip Island for the first time since moving to Melbourne.
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Located about 140km south of Melbourne, Phillip Island is a popular tourist destination, most notably known for the “Penguin Parade”. This unique experience allows visitors to watch the famous “Little Penguins” (AKA the smallest species of penguins standing at 33cm tall and the only penguins native to Australia) waddle ashore from the ocean, dart across the beach and wander into their burrow homes.

Photography/filming was strictly prohibited at the Penguin Parade but this is a short clip of the Little Penguins eating at the Melbourne Zoo!
We, of course, had to plan this trip out to fit our spontaneity, budget and time limitations. Spontaneity equaled expensive accommodation because of last minute planning, which didn’t agree with our budget. Work commitments also didn’t allow us to stay longer than one night but any kind of public transportation would take hours. Solution? Rental car! Goodbye $250 accommodation for ONE night and 32038413-hour-long public transportation and helloooo $47 rental car! (Thank you Europcar Rentals!) This would allow us to drive there and back in one day at 2 hours each way.

Since the Penguin Parade is shortly after sunset (the Little Penguins have to wait for it to get dark to make it more difficult for predators to catch them), we started our day off hiking Cape Woolamai. This 3 hour (including time for photo opps plus appreciation of natural phenomenon’s), 5.5km hike brought us to a spectacular view of Phillip Island and The Pinnacles (bottom, left photo), as well as to the highest point on Cape Woolamai. For people that love hiking, this was definitely worthwhile, although not very challenging. If you’re in for a good walk and a breathtaking view of natural rock formations, then this is a must. If you’re looking for a difficult and dangerous adventure, then well, I heard you can climb these crazy steep rocks. 
After dinner, we headed for the Penguin Parade. We debated getting the “Penguin Plus” seats, which seated you in the very front, but were perfectly happy with our general admission tickets which allowed us a good view to watch our adorable little blue friends scurry across the sand in groups of about 20-25 and up towards their homes. The Boardwalk, or walkways back up to the main building, was the best part. We got as close as possible to the little guys in their natural environment, saw them interact, sit on their eggs and heard a little too much of their “mating” sounds (September is apparently mating season).

We also got to learn “heaps” about Little Penguins. While out at sea, they eat HALF of their body weight every day. During incubation periods, the male and female take turns sitting on the eggs (usually 1 or 2) and switch off every 3-4 days. Since they eat so much (imagine eating 50+ pounds of pizza every day…yummm), they are able to hang out for those few days while their spouse swims about. This conservation center also overturned the myth that penguins mate for life. They actually have a 17% divorce rate and often find new hubbys/wives every year due to divorce & mortality rate.

Tips?

Get there at least an hour early to get good seats! This was probably the main advantage of the Penguin Plus tickets – they were lead to the front right before sunset to avoid sitting in the cold for an hour/hour & a half. But the difference of tickets: GA=$22 // PP=$44
 - One thing that might make a difference for you is the fact that they are a not-for-profit organization so all proceeds go to the penguins:)

Do NOT bring food – I witnessed one of the dozens of crazy, ravenous sea gulls land on my boyfriend’s head and steal pizza out of his mouth. Seriously. This was the LEAST I have ever enjoyed eating pizza, having to guard it from hovering, fearless birds. They strictly prohibit photography inside/on the beach and as much as I wanted to photograph the penguins, capturing the moment where a bird steals my boyfriend’s pizza definitely takes the cake.
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End of our hike:)
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I was desperately wishing there was one underneath our car.. (no luck)
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Watching the surfer's at Woolamai Beach
 
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Sorry, this page has moved.
Click HERE to be redirected to "Teaching English Abroad: Step 1" at my new site, First For Everything.