Heading off to Vietnam

Monday evening, I’ll be heading to the airport with my backpack and an open mind for a flight from Vancouver to Hanoi, via Taipei. This is my first time travelling to Asia and there are numerous emotions that come along with this. While the prospect of visiting a new place is incredibly exciting, there are times when my stomach twists itself into knots at the thought of the potentially challenging situations that await me. Vietnam will be unlike any place I have ever visited and I just hope that my travelling “skills” are up to the task. Dealing with extreme heat, humidity and a whole new type of cuisine will be sure to test my strength. That said, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take part in this experience. I will be travelling as part of a team that aims to facilitate sustainable tourism development and economic empowerment in the ethnic minority villages of northern Vietnam. Being selected as part of the team was a major milestone for me and helped me connect with who I am, what is important to me, and how I can make a difference in the world.

We have drafted an intensive itinerary that seeks to cover a lot of ground over a two week period. My personal contribution to the project so far has been to draft training materials for the creation of an environmental youth group in the Sapa region. The aim is to bring together passionate young people from the villages of Taphin and Lao Chai so that they may be advocates for environmental protection in their community. This has been incredibly rewarding for me, as I seek to develop relationships with leaders of various community organizations in the area so that they may lend their expertise to the project. Environmental protection is extremely important to me and this has been an excellent opportunity to use skills and knowledge gained from my time volunteering with both Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the David Suzuki Foundation. Knowing that the work I have done could help promote positive change in a vulnerable community gives me hope and inspires me to keep working hard.

If you are interested in hearing more about my experiences while working and travelling in Vietnam, please watch both this space and the CBT Vietnam blog for updates. Additional updates can be found on the CBT Vietnam Twitter and Facebook pages.

(Feature “go there” image found on Pinterest. Unfortunately I have not been able to source the original photographer/owner. If this image is yours and you would like it removed, please let me know!)

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countdown to greece

In less than two weeks I’ll be visiting a place that has occupied my dreams for years. I’m finally about to visit Greece, a land that exists simultaneously in the glorious past and an uncertain future. Although I consider myself lucky to have walked in the footsteps of history in many places, there is nowhere quite like the cradle of Western civilization that makes a traveller like me feel humble and insignificant.

I’m eager to walk in the footsteps of the ancient oracles, pondering life’s greatest mysteries at Delphi. Located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, this ancient site was home to the most important oracle in the classical world. Delphi comes from delphys, meaning womb, and is thought to indicate a connection to Gaia and the Earth Goddess. It was also here that the Pythian Games were held, a precursor to the modern Olympics.

Finally, Santorini has been a destination that has existed purely in my imagination for a very long time. I have always found it hard to believe that such a place could exist. I never imagined I would ever have the chance to stroll along the caldera, admiring the stark white and blue architecture as the sun sets. This island in the Aegean Sea is popularly thought to be the home of mythical Atlantis, which would have been home to a thriving civilization before a monumental volcanic eruption submerged the island under the seas.

Although my anticipation and excitement is currently peaking higher than ever, I have many hours of work to go before I can fulfill my dreams. Sigh…

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top five in london

It has been a few months since I first arrived in Hatfield and I cannot believe how quickly time has gone by. Although Hatfield isn’t one of the most exciting places to spend time, fortunately London is just a short train ride away. For one of my study abroad reports, I put together a brief list of some of my favourite things to do in London.

The markets

There are so many markets in London and each one offers a different experience. Camden Market near Kings Cross is perfect for alternative fashion, while Borough Market is a food lover’s paradise. If you are looking for antiques and Hugh Grant, head to Notting Hill to check out the Portobello Road Market. My favourite market of all was the Columbia Road Flower Market, where you can see beautiful vibrant flowers at any time of year – perfect on a dreary England day.

British Museum

For history, you cannot beat the British Museum. This is one of the most informative and entertaining museums I’ve ever been to. The museum is home to Rosetta Stone, which was the key to understanding ancient Egyptian language and civilization, and the controversial marble statues from the Parthenon in Greece. Walking through this museum can feel like a trip around the world, without ever leaving London!

Tate Modern

In contrast to the antiquities found in the classical British Museum, the Tate Modern is full of quirky and intriguing modern art. There is a great permanent collection of pieces divided by themes, such as “Transformed Visions” and “Structure & Clarity”. The location in an old power station adds to the experience and when you are done, you can cross the pedestrian-only Millenium Bridge for a great view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

London Zoo and Regents Park

Even if you aren’t a big animal lover, the London Zoo and surrounding Regents Park is a grand day out. The Zoological Society of London does a great job at promoting the conservation of some of the world’s most spectacular (and endangered) species. They offer student discounts and after your visit, you can stroll through one of London’s most beautiful royal parks or take a ride on a small ferry through the canals.

Walking tours

One of my favourite ways to familiarize myself with London (and any city) is to go on a walking tour. There are so many options and themes, you could do one every day and never see the same area of London twice. For an introduction to London, I recommend the free walking tour offered by Sandeman’s New Europe. It meets every day at Hyde Park Corner and shows you all of the most popular streets and attractions in London, such as Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, and much more.

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market day in st albans

When I first arrived in Hatfield, I was truly underwhelmed by the town and its lack of personality. Instead of street markets, there is a shopping mall or a Walmart-like grocery store. Instead of independent coffee shops, there is a Costa. Truly, the town possesses very little that appears to the kind of traveller I am.

Fortunately, St Albans is only a bus ride away.

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life in hatfield

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Arriving in the dreary little town of Hatfield in the middle of winter wasn’t necessarily the best way to start this stint abroad. Honestly, I couldn’t help but wonder: “Is this the right choice?” on a daily basis. Winter was here, heavy and dark. It wasn’t going anywhere (not sure if it has, despite it being March!). I will be honest, there were a lot of tears the first few weeks. Tears, cups of tea and long naps. I wasn’t making any friends, I was becoming a sad, homesick recluse. I was surprised. I thought I would do better than that. I had read all about culture shock and adjustment, knowing that some people have a hard time at first. I was so convinced I would be ok that my period of being lost hit me hard. I felt awkward, out of place, alone. Like my feet were too big for my body and I couldn’t walk a straight line. It was bizarre.

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Until I realized that life wasn’t going to happen FOR me. I had to do something about it. So off I went, camera in hand. I tried to get out of the house, explore the area. After all, here I was in the heart of Pride and Prejudice country – rolling hills and pastures, lovely woods and pleasant English pubs. I gave it my best and found things improving. I found beautiful parks to go walking in, I made an effort to meet new people, and I finally started eating proper meals. Things were looking better. Hatfield is still a bit dreary. Perhaps the town that someone forgot, with a massive chip on its shoulder. But there is charm to be found nearby.

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Yes, this adjustment was hard. Very hard. But certainly, incredibly worthwhile. I’m starting to learn a lot about myself, what I need to be happy and what makes me feel safe. I’m interested to see how the next few months pan out, before my return to Canada. Seems silly to have spent so much time worrying and hiding under my covers. There is adventure out there, waiting for me and I intend to find it.

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Twelve days (!)

Well, well, well. Here I am, only 12 days from departure. It’s difficult to describe the emotions I am experiencing in the weeks leading up to my adventure. I mostly feel anxiety and stress, as I have yet to start packing or physically preparing for the journey. Simple tasks, such as purchasing a suitcase and packing my clothing, have loomed large on my mind. Once I commit to doing them, it will make the whole situation seem much more real than it does not. I believe that I will not fully feel ready until I arrive in London.

I will be doing some really interesting courses while at the University of Hertfordshire. I’m most looking forward to the two courses focusing on Responsible Tourism. One of them is dedicated to society and culture, the other on economy and environment. These courses will hopefully be beneficial as I seek to focus more on responsible tourism development throughout the last two years of my degree.

I am honoured to have been selected in December to be a part of the CBT Vietnam team and will be travelling to northern Vietnam in August 2013. CBT Vietnam is a fantastic initiative from Capilano University, Hanoi Open University and the PATA Foundation that aims to deliver tourism training and enhance the economic capacity of ethnic minorities living in the Sapa region, particularly groups such as the Red Dao and Black H’mong. We will be working with mainly women from the villages and facilitating training that will improve their home-stays and business opportunities. I hope to discuss this project and my involvement at greater length on my blog soon! Additionally, I hope the courses I will be taking at UH will allow me to offer a unique perspective to the CBT Vietnam team.

Christmas baking at my parents’ house.

This Christmas season was a very busy one and I definitely feel as if I need to have a vacation from my vacation! It was lovely to spend some time at home with my family and do some baking with my mum. My niece is growing up so fast and she’s such a joy to be around. It makes me really happy to hear her call me “Auntie Cait” in her cheerful little voice. The Christmas season also meant lots of parties and it was fun sharing drinks and stories with great friends, new and old. We even rang in the new year at a lively house party wearing fancy clothes! I haven’t done that in quite a few years and it was a great reminder that I prefer spending the evening at home with a board game and a glass of champagne. That being said, it was wonderful to celebrate with my husband and best friends.

Feature photo of London found on Pinterest, unknown artist.

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no reason not to

“Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know
to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
-Steve Jobs

It would be an understatement to say that the last few months have been busy. However, despite my insecurities and doubts about everything, I am stepping out confidently in the direction of my dreams. School this semester has been an adventure in its own right, as I grapple with endless group work, uninteresting course work and a fatigue I just can’t seem to shake. However, there are things to celebrate. I recently submitted an application to be a student volunteer with a community based tourism development project in northern Vietnam, funded in part by Capilano University and the PATA Foundation. This project is exactly where I want to be – it aims to bring sustainable tourism development and skills-based training to the ethnic minority groups living in the Sapa region. I feel immensely intimidated by the whole process but knew that if I didn’t apply, I would regret it for the rest of my life. My application was short-listed (I almost didn’t believe it) and tomorrow is the first group activity and interview. I am so nervous that my stomach is in knots and muscles are seizing up in places I didn’t even know muscles existed. I’m so incredibly passionate about this project that I fear it will cause me to falter and become overwhelmed by emotions. However, there is neither time nor energy to devote to such negative thoughts and I must focus on reminding myself that I have something to offer, no matter how small. All I can do is be myself and try my hardest, knowing that I may not be selected but that I have tried.

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Another exciting event on my horizon is my London adventure. In less than two months, I will be heading to London (and ultimately, Hatfield) to spend five months studying at the University of Hertfordshire. I have received my student number, booked my flight and I am anxiously waiting for acceptance into student housing. For a stress relief, I imagine the things I will see and do while studying abroad and I look forward to some time where I can be an independent traveller once more. While I adore my partner and enjoy building my life in Vancouver, it will be a nice change of pace to be immersed in a new place for a while.

I can’t wait to get travelling again and get into the habit of sharing my adventures on this blog. Sometimes, my regular life just isn’t enough of an adventure to warrant a post.

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midsummer thoughts

This summer has been a busy one. If I’m not working at Tourism Vancouver, I’m volunteering at the David Suzuki Foundation. If I’m not volunteering, I’m keeping the apartment clean, running, catching up on sleep, watching movies with friends, making salad, completing assignments and scholarship applications, and so on and so forth. It’s nice to be busy, it makes me feel capable and successful and in control of my future. For the first time, I feel like I’m taking great strides towards the life I want to live and the person I want to be.

I made the Dean’s List this spring, which is a huge accomplishment for anyone – but honestly, I never thought that could happen to me! I worked my buns off for that and I’m excited to maintain my grades and get the most out of my studies. This summer position is, of course, connected to my degree’s co-op program. I am thrilled to be working in a fast-paced and challenging environment. Not a day goes by that I’m not learning something new or pushing myself to do better. I am getting more and more comfortable with selling tourism products, which is a huge asset in my industry. While I may not enjoy sales, I have won two of the company’s sales challenges and I enjoy learning this new skill set. While working in the Visitor Centre may not be my long-term goal, it is certainly a great way to break into the tourism sphere. I know that I will gain knowledge and experience that will benefit me down the road, no matter where I end up.

On top of the great opportunities at work, I have also had the chance to attend some exciting and unique events outside of work, such as the Vancouver Art Gallery Art Romp for tourism professionals. This private event was held at the Art Gallery after hours and we were treated to a private showing of the temporary “Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters” exhibition. Connecting with other professionals in such an environment allowed me to build confidence in my networking skills. I loved the exhibit and learning more about the Cone sisters. Claribel and Etta Cone counted Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in their social circles and acquired one of the most interesting and well-curated private collections around. How cool were they?!

 
 

At the end of June, Patrick and I took a trip out to Nova Scotia for his brother’s wedding. My favourite part of the trip was the short trip we took out to Prince Edward Island. Ever since I was a child, I have wanted to go to PEI and visit Green Gables! Anne Shirley (of Anne of Green Gables fame) was one of my role models and I was enthralled with the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of PEI as a bucolic paradise. Amazingly enough, PEI was exactly what I had dreamed of and more! We spent two days driving through the charming countryside, stopping to picnic on the beach, drink organic coffee and indulge in locally made chocolate. We spent time at PEI National Park and I was awestruck by the red sandy beaches and striking dunes, backed by lush trees and pastel wildflowers. It was surreal. Bonus? For only $10 we offset the carbon emissions of our entire trip! Offsetting is so easy to do and allows me to enjoy my vacation without worrying too much about my impact.

 
 

Well, I would hate to bore you all with more rambling. I look forward to updating my blog more regularly in the future. Thanks for stopping by!