Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Living Abroad: Your Adopted Family

Staying with a local host family is one of the most affordable types of accommodations available to independent travellers going abroad.  Student studying in foreign countries often find this option extremely appealing as do solo adventurers that have committed to staying in one centralized location for at least a few weeks if not longer.  It is far more budget-friendly than staying in hotels or renting a place for the duration of your stay.

Besides being easy on the wallet though, staying with a host family has a number of additional benefits.  Other than having a comfortable and safe place to stay, you can also have included in your fee most if not all utilities, meals, daily interactions with the locals a.k.a. the family, a local guide if necessary and in most cases, an immediate adopted family that will look out for your well being for the duration of your stay and prove to be life-long friends.  It also offers a safe place to get over your culture shock, joyous family type relationships, laughter filled bouts of miscommunication and intercultural learning.

Here are some tips and feedback from other people who have lived with a host family.

“Do not be afraid to ask a lot of questions. The last thing a host family wants is their student to feel awkward in their home-stay.  It is your home too, so enjoy it!” –Alex M., Canada

“Be sure to express your appreciation for your host family’s hospitality at every opportunity.  The more you consciously and visibly appreciate what your host family does for you, the more they will be inclined to create and share fun experiences with you in the future.” – Yosuke T., Japan

“I have found that successful home-stays really add to effective language study programs because you are fully immersed in the language and culture rather than for just a few hours a day.”­ – Thomas U., Nigeria

“My home-stay was the beginning of a deep and enduring international friendship. With any luck, your home-stay will also be the start warm and lasting relationship so take the time to get to know your family.” – Cesar P., Cuba

“Depending on what country you are in, do not expect ‘American’ privacy - your family may not be afraid to walk into your room while you are changing and tell you that it is time for dinner.”­Stephanie G., United States

“I found that to really appreciate my host family that the best rule of thumb was to spend as much time with them as I would with my own family. This generally included eating dinner together and having quality conversations with my ‘parents’.” – Meaghan J., Canada

“Having a real ‘home’ to come back to at the end of the day was extremely comforting.  No matter what had happened that day, I always felt safe coming home and was able to relax.”Paola S., Columbia

“Make sure you are open to experiencing another culture when you go into a home-stay situation because you are going to be faced with it every day and it can be both challenging and extremely exciting at the same time.” – Arturo L., Spain

“Your host family is going to treat you like another member of the family.  Your parents will give you chores sometimes and your brothers and sisters will want you to play with them.  They really do adopt you into their family and it really makes it easier to be so far away from home.”  - Kai W., Thailand

Have you ever participated in a home-stay?  What was the best part?  Do you have any advice for others considering the same option for their trip abroad?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

International Spices for Your Culinary Experience

I am going to give into my glutinous side for a minute and declare that I love food.  I love cooking food, eating food, experimenting with new recipes, discussing food with friends, family and strangers.  I love going out to eat at new restaurants.  I love Italian food, Chinese food, Thai food, Mexican food, Greek food and even the traditional Canadian staple known as poutine.  So for me, one of the highlights of any trip or vacation is discovering the little mom and pop shop tuck back into a corner that sells the most mouth watering and authentic local fare. 

As much as I like all types of international food, I will have to admit that my skills in the kitchen leave much to be desired and the contents of my spice cabinet can fit in the palm of my hand.  Most of my culinary experiments result in something akin to Hiroshima.  My version of Italian includes frozen pizza and don’t even get me started on Thai (think a package of Mr. Noodles).  It can’t be my fault though; I am confident that it is a genetic flaw passed on by my mother but where she got it from I have no idea because my grandmother can make stroganoff that will make you cry it is so delicious.

But I digress back to the point at hand.  International food.  How many of us wish that we could replicate the flavours of Thailand or the spices of Cuba for ourselves and win the approval of any dinner guest?  Or rather how difficult is it to find authentic international cuisine in your local area that isn’t sitting under a heat lamp swimming in grease and MSG?  I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to find a good Greek restaurant in my town since moving here almost a year ago.  Even good Mexican food is hard to find and you got to wonder how hard can it be to make a decent taco?

It seems the only solution is to travel more.  And hey, I am not opposed to travelling to Thailand in order to experience, what I can only assume, will be amazing Thai food.  Unfortunately, I cannot go and pack a year supply of take-out and leftovers in my carry-on in order to bring the flavours of Thailand back with me.  Same goes with Cuba.  Refried-refried beans just don’t sound as nice. 

The good news is that there are great programs available to students and tourists travelling to foreign destinations that allow them to bring all the food they love home with them, no doggy-bag required.  It is called “learning-to-cook-it-for-yourself”, or, if you prefer, “culinary school”.

Through a number of organizations including International Career Studies, tour groups and individual travellers have been invited to travel to destinations such as Cuba and Thailand in order to work alongside master chefs and culinary experts in order to learn how to combine ingredients and spices, work with the different traditional cooking methods, and create menu items that scream authentic flavour.

The Cocina Culinary School of Cuba is just one of the schools that are opening its doors to international students.  For three hours a day, three to five days a week, you can take a short course of Cuban cuisine that will cover regional foods and typical menu items, cover some theory, provide lots of hands on instruction and in the end students receive a certificate from the Federation of Association of the Republic of Cuba as proof of participation.

Courses are designed for beginner to advanced cooking students and the chance to learn to prepare international cuisine from professional international chefs sounds irresistible for someone like me that truly appreciates good, genuine regional food. 
The only other option to satisfying my craving for time-honoured Cuban home cooking is to move there permanently but I doubt my employer would allow me to telecommute nor does that entirely solve my problem of wanting to experience different types of international food.  And if I thought finding a good Greek restaurant here was hard, I can only imagine the limited options found in the Caribbean.   Plus I would miss poutine.

What are some of your favourite international foods?  Would you be interested in learning to cook them for yourself?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Lost in Translation: There’s an App for That

Foreign destinations are always a thrilling place to visit.  After all, you can only get so excited about traveling somewhere local.  Traveling overseas, however, offers so much more in terms of new things to see and experience, and for most true globetrotters, it is those differences that make it all worthwhile.  Going abroad can present some challenges other than trying to figure out how to occupy your time during lengthy airport layovers.  Communication.  Chances are, your foreign destination also comes with a foreign language and unless you are a multi-linguist, you may encounter some harrowing interactions with the local that leave you frustrated with your English-to-[insert language here] dictionary and performing flamboyant hand gestures in hopes of bridging the communication gap.

We at International Career Studies encourage you to always try and learn a new language.  Becoming bilingual has many benefits which we spoke about in another post done back in March entitled “Je ne parle pas le français… o español”.  Speaking the language on a regular basis is the best way to learn of course, but for the intrepid traveler who is concerned about getting by between now and the day they are completely fluent in Yiddish, here are some helpful tools for your mobile device or computer that can help make the transition between blundering mono-linguist to smooth talker a bit easier.

1.       Jibbigo Voice Translator
Despite the funny name, Jibbigo is a fantastic speech-to-speech translation app for your iPhone or Android device.  Voted one of Travel & Leisure’s Top Travel Apps, this application allows the user to speak into the device and then have the device speak back the sentence in the desired language. 

It features state-of-the-art voice recognition software, a vocabulary of over 40,000 words, includes a dictionary, onscreen speech display and for super convenience, the app does need to be connected to a network in order to function.  And what is perhaps the best feature, is that Jibbigo is bi-directional which means that you can turn it towards the person you are trying to communicate with in order to carry out a full conversation.

2.       Word Lens App
Developed by QuestVisual, this application for mobile devices had an amazing launch with the spread of a viral demonstration video which amazed and astounded people.  This is a visual app that allows you to point the camera on your iPhone at words on a menu, sign or even billboard and have them translated.  It also features a dictionary and like Jibbigo, does not require you to be connected to a network.

The downside is that it can get a little pricey and the translations only go one way.  For example, you would have to purchase the English-to-Spanish translator for $10.00 and the Spanish-to-English translator for another $10.00.  However for travelers who are constantly befuddled by street signs and menus, this magical app is definitely worth it.

3.       Reverso
This free online translator, while not horrible pretty to look at, gets the job done.  While it does require a connection to the internet in order to access, this service allows you to copy and paste in your text and then translates it into the desired language with just a simple click.  It also offers a dictionary, conjugation guide, grammar tutorial and a few other nifty features that go beyond simply translating a phrase to helping you understand the sentence construction which is great if you are actually trying to learn the language.

4.       Google Translate
And of course, let us not forget Google.  This powerful search engine offers a basic online translation service and app for your mobile device for free.  Whether you only need to enter a single word, a single sentence or an entire document, it can handle just about anything you throw at it.  Simple and easy to use, Google Translate has voice input for 17 languages, spoken translations for 24 languages and text translations for 63.

For anyone who has used this service before, you already know that it has the potential to distort many of the available translations, specifically those with abstract alphabets and characters; however, it is accurate enough to get the gist across when traveling and it is free so we can forgive it for being grammatically incorrect at times.

Now, that’s not to say a standard hard copy dictionary isn’t worth investing in for that time when your mobile battery dies but with so many fast and easy applications out there, it is hard for the average traveler not to admit the value in having a digital copy at hand that won’t leave pronunciation up to the imagination.  Do you have a favourite app that you use while traveling?  We’d love to hear which tools you have used and found useful.