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The Vines of Uncertainty

Information is freely available everywhere now; the question is whether you know what to do with it

Commute

25 minutes by car, 37 minutes if traffic was bad. That usual commute by me was seen as “somewhat long” by most friends, and just above average for the U.S. national population. I usually would listen to 91.7 – NPR, or during the months of Sept – Dec, it would be 1530 – ESPN Radio / Mike & Mike (which, btw, is 100x better than the new Trey and Wingo…).

Now, my commute is to Beijing when I’m not working remotely back in Cincinnati. Spanning 3 – 8 weeks, my trips in Beijing allow me to become an actual worker in the city and not simply a passerby tourist. I gain many benefits of this – I have my neighborhood dumpling place, jianbing place, ramen place….so yea, mostly local food places. However, by far the most interesting aspect of my Beijinger lifestyle is my commutes.

I’m going to go ahead and give you a rundown of my usual commute to our office in Beijing from my Airbnb place, which is a few miles east of Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing. Keep in mind – the usual Beijinger commute is 52 minutes, which means my coworkers constantly remind me that my options are “very ideal”. Here we go….

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The Options

  • Taxi/Car: 18 – 35 minutes, 20RMB (about 3$)
  • Bike: 35 minutes, 1RMB (.25$)
  • Subway: 55 – 90 minutes, 3RMB (.50$)
  • Bus: 45 – 100 minutes, 2RMB (.40$)

The main consideration here is the time of day and I will detail that in this account by providing a few scenarios. I’ll also be including my usual step count thanks to FitBit (changes your life man).

   6:15AM – 45 steps

I try to shoot for 6:15 as a wake up time. 6 is just too sad to wake up at, and if I wake up past 6:30 then I feel too rushed in the morning. This is my usual workday when I go to the office, so bear in mind that some days I wake up to go travel, go to a school, etc. Either way, by 6:15 I’m up and immediately think about how I am going to get to work that day. This is mostly because I need to consider which hurdle I want to cross that morning!

Option 1:

     6:45AM – 275 steps

This is the ideal situation, but also the hardest one to do every day since it means I have to get moving right when I wake up (shower, dress, pack, etc). If I am out the door at 6:45am, my option to get to work will be the bus. The reasons for this….

  • It drops me off right in front of the office, so I don’t have to walk much once I get off the bus
  • I can usually get a seat on the bus
  • I get to be above ground, which means I get to actually watch the world go by

     7:05AM – 1,600 steps

The bus stop is a bit of a walk from my apartment – it takes about 20 minutes, but it is pretty straightforward. Some mornings I take one of the infamous MoBikes to the bus stop, but most of the time I can’t find one right away and by the time I do, I’m already halfway there! Anyways, I get there by 7:05 and usually get on the bus after 5 or so minutes. Once on the bus, I can get a seat 75% of the time as most of Beijing is still asleep. The bus takes about 30 minutes (3 stops) as it snakes through Beijing traffic. This is another key part of the bus option at this time – it is usually early enough that we don’t hit any traffic! 30 minutes later, we are at my stop near my office

    7:45AM – 1,850 steps

I’m in my office in Beijing at this time with a jianbing and coffee ready to go. This is easily the best option (time + price + scenery), but also the earliest and most efficient option. It takes about 60 minutes from the moment I open my door to sitting down in my office chair, but again this is right around average.

Option 2:

      7:10AM – 275 steps

This is most days – it’s quite difficult to just “get out of bed” the moment you wake up.

Like the majority of 20ish adults, I like to spend a solid 10-15 minutes first going through social media and emails before leaving my warm bed and accepting my reality.

If I fall victim to this, it means that I am getting out the door a bit later and I need to take the subway. The reason for this is mainly because if I take the bus, I will be a prisoner to the Beijing traffic because by the time I get on the actual bus it will be 7:45 and I’ll be jammed inside, while our vehicle is jammed outside; a terrible situation to be in. So, I take the subway since it is underground.

   7:15AM – 400 steps

Luckily the subway entrance is really close to my apartment, so getting to the exit isn’t a problem. My problem is the reality in front of me – I’m about to take the most common form of transportation in a city of 25 million people. There will be no sitting and there will most definitely be shoulders in my back from little, nice old ladies. The other main obstacle: I have to transfer twice. The fun part about transferring is that you have to walk to the new subway line. This not only includes lots of walking, but also walking with a huge pack of other people with an assortment of luggage, walking paces, and ages. I start with Line 7 and only go one stop.

    7:32AM – 1,100 steps

I’ve only gone one stop and made the walk to the transfer to Line 5. The 1 stop takes a few minutes, the actual walk takes around 15 minutes. Compounded by the fact that I am doing it with hundreds of people at a quick pace, it ends up getting quite warm, my absolute downfall as a human. So, I’m about to get onto Line 5; notoriously one of the most busy lines in Beijing. The lines to get in are already forming and yes, we have the pushers at each stop ready to literally push people in. If your mind is struggling to visualize this, please watch this video and imagine me pre-coffee getting ready to be pushed into this mass. And this time, I have two stops to go….

     7:48 – 1,750 steps

I’m on my last line (line 1) with the faint feeling of perspiration coming down my back. I have two stops and it is not nearly as crowded as I am going the opposite way of the majority of Line 1ers. The issue I have to prepare for is coming up – my subway exit is a solid 25 minute walk to the office. I’ve already walked a ton, so my choice is to do the walk or pay a little for a bike ride. Totally depends on the day for me, but usually opt for the walk so I can catch a breather and collect my thoughts.

    8:22am – 2,400 steps

In the office with jianbing and coffee in hand. At this point, I am still in the office earlier than my colleagues, but reeling from the chaotic pre-coffee hour I just had. Also I want to make it clear – I eat jianbing almost every morning if I can. I already shared the link above, but I am going to do it again here because it is important. It’s easily one of the main things I look forward to once I land in Beijing.

Option 3:

    7:20AM – 275 steps

I’m late, the morning commute with public transportation is going to be horrible (and won’t get my there until 9), and at this point I just need to bite the bullet and pay for a taxi. For sure this is the most comfortable experience, but I still A: have to sit in traffic (albeit I actually get to sit) and B: it doesn’t seem expensive, but adds up if I keep doing it. It also involves hailing a taxi which can sometimes be a bit unpredictable on the timing, compounded by the fact that I am also a waiguoren and typically scare off most taxi drivers. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get a taxi, but I don’t have to walk far and I get dropped off right by my office.

foreigner
Just in case I forget… literally “foreigner” in Chinese

      8:05AM – 650 steps

Again, easily the most comfortable experience but it is unpredictable (getting an actual taxi) and costly. These are for the usual “F-this” days.

Option 4:

      7:35AM – 275 steps

Panic mode sets in – even if I find a taxi, I still have to sit in terrible traffic. The bus is an absolute no-go (100 minutes easily) and the subway will be PACKED with people (90 minutes). This is where I go the straight bike option. It isn’t a terrible bike ride and in fact, if I don’t have any meetings/visits (meaning I’m wearing jeans and a flannel), I prefer this option as I get some morning exercise in. However, that is rarely the case (I usually have to dress quite nice) and I’m not going to ride a bike in dress pants and a jacket. However, if I get out of my place late enough, I have no choice. Luckily with the bike option, I don’t have to deal with people or traffic as Beijing (and the rest of Asia) is very bike-friendly with the street lanes AND it is cheap. It usually takes me about 30 minutes.

how to avoid traffic
That is one way to avoid traffic!

        8:15am – 1,400 steps and 25 active minutes

In the office, ready to go and hopefully not too sweaty. It’s only March though, so it’s only going to get worse…..

Planning to write a lot more as I have seen a need for both cultural and political opinion pieces about China, Education, and the geopolitical situations playing out around the world. Hoping you guys enjoyed this and reach out if you have any questions or want me to talk about anything else!

Instructor picture #4

 

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Culture, Ethics, and our Digital Future

Over a week ago, Mark and his Facebook crew lost an estimated 10 billion USD in value with Friday the 23rd costing him 2 billion alone. What a week that has to be – mo money mo problems am I right.

…. My only comparison is waking up from a bar crawl the night before to a paid tab of 137$ and Chase asking me “Do you approval of this unusual activity?”.

While investors aren’t scrambling to reassess my net worth, it’s pretty straightforward to understand why major companies like SpaceX/Tesla and Playboy (brands are king) deleted their company profiles and that thousands of rival Twitter users used the hashtag #DeleteFacebook. Companies need squeaky-clean images in this era of transparency in order to grow their loyal fan base and those fans generally do not support institutions that collect, hold, sell, and profit from their personal data in the name of technological progress (the convenient word used in most of these scenarios).

For individuals in the Western word, privacy is important and this extends to our digital footprint. One argument concerning privacy is centered on the extent of your privacy vs the common good of society. For example, if you are doing something in your own home and it doesn’t physically affect others, then is it your own private right to pursue that uninhibited?

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Let’s use an example — if you are single person watching child pornography that has been digitally created so that no humans are involved or violated, while alone in the basement of your home where no one else can see, should you be punished? This is your own private home and it doesn’t affect anyone else (the pornography is digitally created), so how can someone tell you to not do this?

A counterargument — as someone who supports child pornography either fiscally (paid subscription) or emotionally (or both), are you deemed as a possible threat to society as a whole once you leave your “privacy”? Either by eventually “snapping” and physically carrying out your desires or by morally accepting child pornography as acceptable and nonchalantly passing along that mindset to others, you could argue that your private actions negatively impact society at large, so what you do in your privacy is not in fact actually kept private.

It is a tricky situation and honestly, really subjective in my opinion. There is no blanket response and instead, numerous scenarios should be individually evaluated. That, however involves more bureaucracy and we know THAT is not something the majority of Americans are willing to accept.

I digress.

Now, our “home” has expanded beyond four walls and while we continue to do much of our private activity in this new space, it is no longer so easy to just simply “cut it off” from society. The argument above no longer applies in this new world – everything you do in your new home is public. If you honestly believe that what you do on the internet is “private”, you should check out this article or talk to anyone who can code. Every action you do online is stored to generate powerful analytical tools to “help technology push progress”.

Of course, you could just not go online….but then think about all of the important things on Facebook that you would miss!

So now that we have moved past the silly notion that what you do online is private, it is time to discuss the exact problem Facebook “tried to correct” in regards to what can be done with your data.

Facebook unknowingly (debatable) sold our data (that we legally “gave up”) to an analytics firm who in turn used it to contact some people (literally millions of other people) and (supposedly) sent them propaganda to influence their political perspectives.

The biggest issue here is people taking things at face value and not utilizing numerous sources to do their own homework or research (i.e. fake news) on certain situations.

That, however, would require $$$ towards education to improve their critical thinking prowess and is something our government refuses to do (fund education? naw). Perhaps because they benefit by leading the ignorant masses? Where you at #1984

Fake news aside, there is still a question of the ethical and legal implications of the sort of action Facebook did. While we can pretty much all agree that using our data to deceit people is not ethical, you could certainly make the argument that it is still legal. I mean, you are the ones putting your data out there and accepting the size 6 service agreement, so you allowed this to happen. This isn’t, however, the debate I want to focus on.


Instead, I want to focus on the ethical implications of big data using our information. Of course, it can be used negatively like the way Cambridge Analytica (btw, every article that references the company mentions it is not related to Cambridge University so…. disclaimer that it is not related), but think of the things it could positively do.

(1) The easiest one to discuss is traffic – if Apple/Google/Uber/DiDi/Baidu maps harvested all of the location-sharing and driving data it collected to analyze traffic and congestion conditions, city planners could easily use that information to justify new infrastructure projects or elected officials could help craft transportation laws to help ease the congestion, pollution, and inefficiency created by traffic.

(2) Food consumption – if grocery stores, restaurants, farmers, and other food industries could track and analyze food consumption patterns, the distribution of food could become more efficient and less of an environmental concern (yea, if you don’t know by now that meat consumption is one of the biggest factors of global warming, read now). This could help end world hunger and make thousands of farmers more profitable by becoming more efficient, while at the same time improving our environment.

Things like this, however, involves sharing your data and trusting companies (or governments) to use it ethically to solve these sorts of problems. In Western culture….there is too much skepticism and pessimism (unfortunately for good reason) for the average person to buy into that. And honestly, I’m not sure that is ever going away.

In the East, and I’ll focus on East Asia since that is my main realm, the culture is more accepting of big brother with the notion that big brother is looking out for your best interests. More importantly, the culture is willing to accept that sometimes big brother makes mistakes, but it is all in the name of progress. This is a sweeping generalization but, there is a reason leaders make comments like this and that apps like MoBike, AliPay, KakaoTalk, CTrip, QQ, and others can ask for huge amounts of data (SSN equivalents, food patterns, location always on, digital face scans, etc) and users sign up without batting an eye. Oh, and the fact that lifelong power is normalized.

This is all to say that we aren’t going backwards – technology, big data, and our digital footprint are not leaving or decreasing anytime soon. Instead, it is more interesting to me in analyzing how different areas of the world embrace this new future and empower it to grow. While Facebook is now dragged down in legal and ethical battles with its’ Western audience, Apps and big data in the East continue to grow and progress unchecked with the support of millions ($$$ and people). Since this is the future, is the leadership in this field by foreign companies something Western audiences should be anxious of? While this question is answered in unison by a culture, it is up to the individual to grapple with that idea.

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She clearly is embracing her future and I 100% support it. Mom, on the other hand, looks skeptical.

As someone who while living in Beijing: scans in with their retina into the office, hails cabs via an app with a real-time translator, has abandoned the need for paper currency in a digital economy, and gets their laundry picked up and dropped off in their apartment without physically meeting the mysterious help, I can tell you that technological progress (and dependence) is only going to increase.

It’s already here and isn’t stopping anytime soon as it is supported by the highest authority down to the individual citizen. They have accepted that these specific apps and companies will hold their private data (backed by the government) and trust that they will use it for the improvement and progress in society.

The question I think Western audiences need to answer as we increasingly move towards this new big-data future……who do we want the leaders to be in this big data revolution?

The red stamp makes it official – 5 thoughts on no more 5-year term limits in China.

This week marks the end of the official liang hui or “two meetings” event in Beijing where both the National People’s Conference (NPC, think China’s House of Representatives) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, think China’s Senate) get together to discuss what the “Standing Committee” of seven (think China’s Presidential cabinet) has decided in the past few months. This event’s main item for discussion: the abolishment of the 2 x 5 year term limit for the President of the Republic.

What this means…. we now have another lifetime leader in China. Xi Jinping, now holding a cemented place in China’s constitution as “Xi Jinping thought”, is no longer restricted by the constitution to two terms. Upon starting his second term this past October, he made this priority number one and the committee supported it. What does this mean for China? What does this mean for the party? And what does this mean for the world at large? Here are my 5 main takeaways…

xi
I wonder if he voted for himself…

1: Culturally, China is balanced again.

This may be unthinkable to numerous people in western democracies but….there are other ways to govern a country! Democracy is awesome, but if the last century (or two) of colonialism and nationalism has taught us anything is that it doesn’t work everywhere and it especially doesn’t work for countries with a long history of being undemocratic (is that a word? 90% sure…).

For a country that for 5,000 years (yes, 5K) has had a singular ruler, the shift back to a lifetime term for one person is something Chinese culture is quite comfortable with. And this sentiment is confirmed by the numerous conversations I have had and state media that has been produced – while Mr. Xi is for sure a respected leader and is quite popular in China, it is more of the familiarity of having a single ruler that is appealing to Chinese people. Yes, there are a few outspoken critics about it (and even fewer that actually reside in the mainland), but overall people are quite satisfied about it or at the very least, have the feeling of mei banfa which loosely translates to “nothing I can do about it”.

2: Xi Jinping is the most popular Chinese leader outside of China….ever

The Economist called him the world’s most powerful man. NY Times acclaims that Xi was the star at Davos and for the 21st century economy; a title usually reserved for America’s innovations. And Xi’s “one belt one road” (there have been so many titles for this) is applauded across the world as reviving an entire region of the former Silk Road that has been neglected in the 20th and 21st century. Seen as a champion of corruption and a defender of the green economy, Xi is celebrated across the world for his leadership and deserves the lion’s share of China’s current clout in all industries. Just look at Trump’s twitter feed and search for mentions of Xi – you find that he has 180ed his opinion about China and has even lusted over the thought of emulating Xi’s lifetime appointment. Which is a great segue to my next point…

3: Not even a whiff of a significant negative reaction from the rest of world leadership about this development

This is what really stands out to me – the 70s and 80s political culture in the U.S. would have blasted this move. In an age where populism is on everyone’s minds in Europe, there was no mention of the notable change that took place on the other side of the globe. Yes, China is a communist country and while that is no longer as dirty of a word in the Western lexicon, I’m still shocked on how little was said by prominent global media outside of standard reporting. It makes my second point even more true, but it is still significant that one of the world’s most influential countries decided to give their leader lifetime status and there really wasn’t any sort of global condemnation.

4: Green energy and tackling the pollution problem.

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Tianjin, 43rd office window a few months apart

I’ve posted quite a bit about this, but the pollution is just a super real thing here in China land. Mr. Xi has proclaimed himself as a defender of green energy and really pushing on solutions for the pollution problem, but it is yet to be seen on how “hard” he will really be on it. In addition, misguided agendas have been a theme in tackling this problem including last year’s new rule in Northern China outlawing the use of coal-backed heat, but without supplying means to produce heat in other ways! This created obvious problems, yet was overlooked upon implementation. Really hoping Mr. Xi steps his game up on this one because the problem is here and the solutions needed to be implemented yesterday.

smog
A mask is so necessary on a day like this

5:  Fighting corruption has been Xi’s other big initiative…. Will he be able to resist the temptation?

Please show me an example of a recent foreign leader that is able to steer free of corruption or scandal during a lifetime term. Call me a pessimist, but I just don’t have enough faith in human nature to believe this is even possible. Lifetime power….come on, humans are naturally flawed and that type of unlimited power going unchecked is bound to create some sort of scandal. Even the most benevolent of heroes fall victim to scandal during their times of influence (Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mel Gibson (ha)) and for me, it is more of a question of “when and what” rather than “if”.

And this is the last point that is most interesting to me…… what will the scandal be, when will it happen, and how will China’s most information-savvy generation react?

For a “champion of corruption” to commit corruption….will that have a significant reaction? This is why, to me, this appointment will have heavy implications for China and the world. Will China be able to do a 1989 – esque cover up (no) and what will the fallout be? Will it be something that is contained/contains implications within the country, or will it be internationally felt? Only time will tell…

happy china

Personally, I’m a fan of Mr. Xi and I don’t feel too strongly about this move and more importantly, it really wasn’t that surprising. I’m more interested to see what is to come from this – both on the green energy/pollution front and what will his scandal be and the reaction that comes from it. To that end, wishing the best for China and that he proves history wrong!

5 Things After….5 weeks in China

No catchy title, but we will go with it anyways. I was looking at my past posts and I remember how I tried so hard to make the titles cool, so what happened to that? Or maybe I will just blame it on the Chinglish slowly taking me over again. On that note, I have a pre-5 things thing to say (thing): it is important to maintain friendships with native English speakers so you remember how to speak English colloquially and make sure you don’t permanently slip into teacher English…but I digress (or is it, “I’m going to digress a little and explain a pre…..”…w/e).

On with it –

1: WeChat runs business in China. For all my landlocked friends in the U.S., pretty much every country/region outside of ‘Merica uses a messaging app to communicate instead of just texting. Europe uses WhatsApp, South Korea uses Kakao, and China uses a brillant app called Wechat. I could write a whole essay on WeChat, but the main thing I want to highlight here is how important to business it is. We have group messages where bosses call people out for everyone to see publicly, documents are sent over for approval without the need for pesky attachments, reimbursements are made instantly (yea, WeChat is a wallet too and the payment is accepted more frequently than U.S. credit cards), and SALES are completed and signed via WeChat. WeChat has a damn e-sign verification software so literal business deals are made and completed on WeChat. Email is out of touch here, it is all WeChat. Which makes it even more interesting because….

2: You have no privacy on WeChat. In WeChat’s terms of services, they make it very clear that your data is now public knowledge and it is for WeChat the government to use. No wonder top dawgs in Beijing love WeChat – it is a public and (because you accepted it) perfectly legal way to access your information. Data is most valued — just look at the stock market and which companies are highly valued (hint: the companies that have the most data about you/us/me). And that makes WeChat king.

3: They have a bike sharing system called “mobike” (or Ofo depending if you are a West side Beijinger or East side Beijinger) where you register with credit card, a picture of your personal ID, and a picture of you holding your personal ID. Your credit is then accessed and you are assessed if you are trustworthy enough to join the great sharing experiment happening in China. With this app, you literally unlock the bike with your app (QR code), bike to your destination, and then lock it. Right there. No specific area for you to drop it off. And you get docked “points” if you leave it in naughty places like the side of the street. Oh, did I mention that these points are actually your credit score. Yes, that same credit score that banks use, meaning you can participate but don’t fool around otherwise you will pay for it.  The sharing market is huge here and only in a culture as willing to be online as China could it explode so quickly.

4: The smog is just as bad as I remember it. BUT, at least they recognize the issue and are actually trying to fix it via education, rather then pretending it doesn’t exist…

5: Everyone is scrambling to find the education secret. China values education above all else and will pay top dollar to get the best. BUT (yea, I’m doing it a second time, I’m a daredevil) they don’t know exactly what they want. Test prep is easy to purchase because you can quantify the results, but Chinese parents are finally starting to realize the test scores don’t really mean anything, especially in the eyes of admission officers. So, they are trying to find a new product (MINE). But here is the secret: there actually is no secret, it’s just that the truth is harder to swallow. Admission officers want two things: a unique student and a student that is able to contribute to the school’s community. That is really all. The hard part is, you can’t buy that…… you have to cultivate it and because it currently doesn’t exist in Chinese education, they have to find a different garden to grow in. I have that garden people.

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With that, I want to say that this first month or so has been smooth rocky. My fiancee is an absolute rockstar and without her keeping me sane, I’m not sure how much longer this could last. I think I was a little naive with what I was getting myself into and it showed. I am learning a new job, in a new business culture, 5,000 miles away from my home. I was working 12 hour days for 4 weeks straight and not taking time for myself. I was trying to do everything on my own rather then telling other people to be doing it instead. I realized that while I’m great at project management, I’m not great at demanding better results and people to do things on time, so I’m working on being more aggressive with what I need. Saying no and being mean are two things I’m not great at (thanks Minnesota), but all I can do is get better at it. I’ve learned more in this month than I could learn in a year and I will keep pushing. Jia yo!

Cheers U.S. of A and go Packers

Lubez

 

 

Starting your World Travel Experience: Backpacking in Southeast Asia

This entire trip is near and dear to my heart & soul. It was Southeast Asia where I first traveled alone and really explored a new culture by myself. It was Southeast Asia where I discovered the joy of unique cuisine and to try everything that was offered to me. It was Southeast Asia where I realized the importance of international education, perspective, and the blurred definition of what it means to be successful.

It was also Southeast Asia where I learned what poverty actually looks like. It was Southeast Asia where I learned how cruel pompous foreigners can be to local people. It was Southeast Asia where I finally understood the toll American Exceptionalism has taken on this beautiful area of the world, especially in Vietnam.

If you are at all interested (and able) to take a month or so to backpack, please consider Southeast Asia. It has been well traveled since the 70’s and every country in that region is “English Friendly”. I cannot stress enough how even though the language is very different, the tourism industry is so strong that English is available everywhere you go. The last point before outlining some references/trip ideas for you…

Traveling within Southeast Asia is a cakewalk and is very cost-effective. One-way tickets from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur can cost as little as 20$. This is what you cannot get in Europe. And do not worry about the safety – this industry is very established in this area of the world and has minimal accidents. If you have ever dreamed about traveling the world, this is where you want to start. This article will be a bit lengthy as I explain different ways to do this trip and give you different articles and resources for your own investigation. At the very least, I hope reading these first couple paragraphs has inspired you to at least consider planning (with a good friend!) a trip in the future.

Now, onto the “how” to backpack Southeast Asia….

I won’t pretend I am an expert, but I have done it twice and I have done extensive research. My opinion is also based on stories/experiences of friends of mine who have also done Southeast Asia. There are basically two ways to do this….

Option #1 

1st picOption 1 starts with flying into Chiang Mai or Bangkok (Thailand). Either way, both options you want to head North and then East. Chiang Mai is the most populated Northern city in Thailand and contains a nice blend of local northern Thai culture with enough tourism culture as well. The food is phenomenal and you can do many different wildlife excursions like: visit elephant conservatories, zip lining, ATV riding, kayaking, etc. In addition, there are a few different cities to visit around the area with the most popular being Pai.

From Chiang Mai, head east to Laos. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to visit this beautiful country, but it is something you should try to do if you make this trip. While your hostel in Chiang Mai will have plenty of options/advice on how to travel to Laos, make sure to do your own research as well. There are many websites out there that contain information on how to do this, you just need to find the right one that fits you!

From Laos, head north to Hanoi. The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi contains an amazing blend of traditional Vietnamese culture with colonial French influence. I personally enjoyed this city much more then Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but you should decide for yourself. Make sure to check out the French Concessions and view some of the memorials/museums from the Vietnam War – which, of course, is called the American War in Vietnam.  In addition, spend a day visiting HaLong Bay and enjoy the countryside ride to this amazing natural wonder.

halong bay

Once you have spent sufficient time in Hanoi, head on down to Hue, DaNang, and Hoi An. If you are like me, take this time to ride the train in Vietnam and really see the beautiful countryside (seat61.com is an AWESOME website to figure out transportation in this area of the world). Otherwise, like almost everyone in this country, rent a bike/moped and drive yourself! It is easy to rent a bike in Hanoi for 2-3 weeks and return it once you reach Ho Chi Minh City in the south.

Hue, DaNang, and Hoi An are all relatively close to each other, with DaNang and Hoi An being a quick 15 minute bike apart. Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam and is a must see if you are interested in History. If not, make sure to spend time in DaNang and Hoi An.

Hue-Hai-Van-Danang-Hoi-An-Map

 

Hoi An is a wonderful touristy city with many opportunities for shopping and eating. I would recommend buying something silk or tailored here — it is one of the most famous cities in the world for silk products.

From Hoi An, head on down to Ho Chi Minh City, or commonly referred to as Saigon.

Ho Chi Minh City was the Southern capital during the war and contains many memorials and museums dedicated to the victims and cause. The War Remnants museum describes the war both from the American side and the innocent victims in the battle. This museum also includes a whole exhibit on the devastating effects of Agent Orange. Once finished, I recommend reflecting on the differences between the Hanoi museums and Ho Chi Minh City museums. This is where you can see how the Winners tell history and can depict it anyway they want to.

There are many fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh City as well. Find a tour that takes you down to the Mekong River Delta and see fisherman at work. Climb into the Cu Chi tunnels and see what it was really like to be on the ground in Vietnam. Lastly, eat as much food as possible and don’t be afraid to try live quail eggs!!

From Ho Chi Minh City, head on over to Cambodia. While personally for me, Phnom Penh (the capital) was a little disappointing, you should make sure to visit Siem Reap — famous for Angkor Wat.

Angkorwat(rear)

 

Or, if you are looking for more of the beach/party life, head south to Sihanoukville. Here, you can enjoy the beach life and eat Happy pizza.

This also gives you a more direct path to some more island/beaches in an amazing country: Thailand.

phuket_location

 

Make sure to start south and work your way up to Bangkok. If you took option #1, then you probably have a round trip flight to Bangkok. In this case, make Bangkok the last city you visit.

It will be the cheapest to go to Phuket first and then find which island(s) you want to visit, but there are a bit more expensive options to fly directly to the island(s). Make sure to visit skyscanner.com to see the best deals — this is my favorite website to find cheap Asian airlines.

Phuket is located on the southern end of Thailand and is the launching point to all of the famous Thai islands. Phuket itself, however, is a great place to spend a couple days as well. Get up to visit Patong beach for a good time and Phuket old town for a history lesson. Downtown Phuket will show you everything that is wrong with the tourism industry: prostitution, drugs, ping pong shows, and corruption run this city. Keep Phuket to a day or two and you will be fine.

Phuket hostels have all of the information for you in regards on how to get to the islands and which ones to choose. I will detail my experience, from there you can do your own research to find the best island(s) for you!

Here is an updated version of the “top 10” list for the islands in Thailand. That top 10, however, still lists Kho Phi Phi as the top island. Famous for the Leo movie “The Beach”, Kho Phi Phi is paradise for singles and partygoers alike. However, the beach itself is pretty subpar and the island is overrun with tourism and expensive food. Great for a night, maybe two, but not worthwhile to stay for a while. Make sure to visit some of the more laidback islands like Kho Lanta or Kho Samui. However, this is my suggestion…

thai islands

Either fly or boat to Krabi, an island across from Phuket. Enjoy Krabi, but use Krabi to easily get to other islands. Mainly, I suggest going to Railay Peninsula and visit Railay & Tonsai beach. It is not listed on the above map, but it is the two islands just south of Krabi, next to Koh Lanta. It is here where you can enjoy: cheap food, cheap luxury resorts, and beautiful beaches. In addition, this area is still not heavily visited so tourists are not abundant here (yay!). From there, you can get to Kho Lanta or Ao Nang.

Once you enjoy the beaches and island life, it is time to head back to Bangkok for your flight home. Bangkok is a whole monster and has many different things to explore and see. At the end of a long trip like this, I recommend shelling out a bit of $$$ to relax these few days away from the Hostel life. Eat as much street food as you can and make sure to buy many gifts!

Now let’s go the other way….

#2
Starting point is Hanoi and working backwards. Sometimes round trip flights are cheaper out of Vietnam (closer to California) and it is better to go West and then South. If this is so, take the advice from the later route, but go the opposite direction.

Extras..

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: A unique visit of Indian, Chinese, and native Malay, Malaysia is a melting pot of different cultures that has created its’ own flavor. Kuala Lumpur is the center of it all, giving you the opportunity to eat Chinese dumplings for breakfast, Malay-style gyros for lunch, and famous Indian curry for dinner. I personally really enjoyed this city — many opportunities to jump from there to other parts of Malaysia as well (or Singapore!)

Myanmar (formerly Burma): A recent war-torn country, Myanmar is quite new to the Southeast Asia backpacking experience. This may make this option quite appealing — the tread of the trails are still quite new, so it can be more of an ‘adventure’ for you. However, this might be the exact reason why you also do not want to go.

Bali, Indonesia: The first country I truly went by myself, Bali is an island paradise that offers any guilty pleasure that you are looking for. With beautiful rainforest and shoreline, renting a motorbike is a must to really appreciate the whole island. Try to avoid the party spots (Bali is the Cancun for Australians), and stick to the East side like Sanur.

Hong Kong / Taiwan: These two destinations give you a glimpse of Chinese culture without getting a visa to visit the Mainland. Taiwan includes local Taiwanese culture which comes in the wonderful form of: fruit, night markets, and seafood. I highly recommend visiting the National History Museum there – it contains over 5,000 years of Mainland Chinese history. Hong Kong is a little bit more familiar to Western tourists – a nice blend of Chinese with the Western world. Everything is in traditional Chinese characters, but the taxi drivers will speak to you in fluent English. Oh, and make sure to get used to your “comfort zone” being extremely violated.

This is my advice I want to give you in order to travel Southeast Asia. This is no way the “right” way to do it, just my personal opinion on what worked for me and how I would do it again. Ten people might have ten different ways to do this trip, but all can agree that this area of the world is magical. Make sure to stay in hostels and meet people from around the world; people like you who are just trying to figure out who they are and what the world around them is like.

Most importantly, take note on how other cultures/countries view YOU, especially as an American— learn how to be introspective and gain an understanding of your culture and the privilege that comes with it. Very few passports allow you the opportunity to just walk around other countries with no drawbacks. Think about what that means and what had to happen to achieve that.

If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am very willing to help answer your questions and give personal direction to accomplish this journey. Being able to help plan your trip helps to somewhat tame my own travel itch!

Do your research and do not be afraid to take the leap! The hardest part is making this individual decision — think of it as an investment for your own personal self-growth rather than a vacation. As anyone who has done this trip can confirm, Southeast Asia is never “just” a vacation, it’s an adventure.

How To Go Abroad After College

It could have been when you were still finishing undergraduate studies and one of your classmates in your English thesis class explained to the group how he “found himself” while studying in Florence the semester before. It could have been in your first interview out of college when your future employer asked “What was your most memorable experience in University?” It could have been that conversation you had last weekend with your friend, the one who brought their high school friend to the bar, when you were first introduced to the idea of “going abroad” and everything that came with it. And luckily that interest did not go away when you had those two weeks last June where every single day your former classmate posted pictures about their volunteer mission in Haiti – you know, those pictures where she is the one white girl smiling behind a group of 8 hungry, tired, but still also smiling children – that really turned you off.

But it wasn’t going to go away. The idea, that thought, wasn’t going to be squashed by a two week Facebook blast by your classmates. You had to go abroad. There was no other choice.

But how? The majority of people you knew/saw going abroad did it during undergraduate studies. And that is gone *tear*. Do not fear, however, there are still many ways to go abroad for a significant time after undergraduate studies AND still make money. What I present to you now is a guide to help you decide: What will I do abroad, Where will I go, How long will I go, and How can I do it? But before we get to that, we need to help identify what kind of expat you want to be….

The Four Categories

I’m not ready to take the leap, but I want to see what this is all about. I can do a month, maybe a summer, living in a different country. As long as I know when the “end” is (and it better be quick), I can do it. I am more curious in backpacking then living in one specific country.

Life is a party, I am a party, living abroad is a party. I am looking to live in a different country for at least 6 months, maybe a year. I just want to shake it up a bit and my current sales associate job at Old Navy isn’t cutting it for me. However, I am not interested in making a ton of money — I just want to party, travel, and meet my future love(rs). And take lots of pictures on the beach.

I just need to go abroad for a bit, make some money, and find myself. I want to live abroad for at least a year and I want to make a bit of money while doing it. Traveling and having fun is great, but I also want to experience a new culture and make lifelong friends — maybe even find a passion I never knew about. Sneak peek: this is the majority of us.

Teaching is my passion and/or working in the international sector is what I was made to do. I need a 1-3 year experience teaching/working in different countries and building my resume for future employers. This experience needs to be serious, I need to make serious money, and maybe Fun can stop by every once in a while.

Alright now that we know exactly who we are and what we want …. Yeah we probably don’t know yet. That is okay — this isn’t an easy decision, and my opinion isn’t the opinion — but it might be a good starting point for you. For each category, I will break down the most sensible traveling abroad options regarding the big questions of: What, Where, How, and How long.  Stay tuned for a separate post for each category — links and research will be included!

Required Reading for College: Prospects, Parents, and Professors

The best quality of William Deresiewicz’s book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & the Way to a Meaningful Life, is actually described by Deresiewicz as one of the most important qualities of professors in higher education.

A good professor: is able to connect many different subjects and topics, is personable and approachable, and uses jargon conducive to reach a general audience.

These are the exact qualities of Deresiewicz’s book that really make this read worthwhile to readers from so many different walks of life.

With themes that run from choosing the right higher education institution to fixing the higher education problem, the book is applicable to anyone who is involved, or knows someone involved, in the higher education process whether that be as a student, parent, or employee. Deresiewicz breaks down this book into four sections that look at higher education from four different perspectives, each one building on one another to finally bring us to his final point.

His first section Sheep, gives us four perspectives that outline how we came to the state of higher education that it is today. History shows the events and themes that built the American higher education system as it stands today and the institutions show the result of that. Furthermore, he uses the institutions’ perspective to show today’s assembly line of education: policy makers have given students the money (through grants and loans) instead of the institutions, leading to a more consumer-driven market rather than one dictated by educational initiatives. Lastly, the “training” of students to become A’s driven rather than intellectual-curiosity driven has created educational machines who blindly focus on collecting as many AP courses as possible rather than discovering what they are really passionate about. The students’ perspective, Deresiewicz argues, really exemplifies the “Excellent Sheep” mentality that has been created by History, Training, and the Institutions of higher education. Students today march towards “the end”, scrambling to be the most busy and the most accomplished without ever taking advantage of the best thing college has to offer — intellectual freedom to pursue and study whatever you may be most passionate about.

Self and Schools contain enough philosophical ideals, backed with meaningful facts and real-life insights, to really make you consider the importance of higher education and how to take full advantage of it.

The section Self breaks down what it means to actually go to college and why we need to do it. Skillfully using Latin and literature examples (Deresiewicz was an English professor at Yale for a decade), he articulates that the purpose of a real education is to liberate us from doxa (Latin for opinion) by teaching us to recognize it, and to think our way around it. College isn’t merely to learn specialized skills, college is there for you to learn how to think, contemplate, and learn how to develop introspection. Yes it isn’t the “real world”, but Deresiewicz argues that this is higher education’s exact strength. College allows you to learn how to live more alertly, more responsibly, more freely, and more fully. It shadows you from real world responsibility so you have the time to learn how to manage it.

Schools is the section most important to high school students and parents of high school students. It is here where Deresiewicz teaches us to read, frankly, through the bulls*** that is college rankings. Listening to his motto of “follow the money”, Deresiewicz outlines how higher education institutions that place more value on research and faculty grants (get more money) tend to be the institutions that lack teaching value. Furthermore, the institutions that pride themselves on their brand (i.e Ivy League material) tend to produce an atmosphere of elitism that can be toxic to an 18 year-olds attitude, self-confidence, and definition of “success”. Deresiewicz provides us with certain websites and tools that we can use to dig through the marketing swamp of higher education and find the right institution for our needs and financial circumstances.

Society finally shows us the grim reality of what our unchecked, elite, and very much inclusive higher education mantra has given us today. Using eye-popping statistics to paint this picture. Deresiewicz successfully sheds light on who exactly controls our society, where do they come from, and why their higher education choice fuels this discrimination. To hopefully convince you to read this book, I will cite one important statistic he gives us.

In 2012, 54% of the leaders in the corporate world and 42% of our leaders in government have degrees from one (or more if they have multiple) degrees from only twelve different universities. Twelve.

While the last section does paint a negative reality, Deresiewicz provides enough evidence and insight on how to improve and diversify the system throughout the book. With the right allocation of resources and institutions moving towards a more teaching-centric mentality as opposed to a research-centric one, higher education can improve. To be clear, Deresiewicz believes there are numerous institutions throughout the country that still provide a worthwhile and engaging education. His point is that as of now, you need to correctly sift through the market to find the right one for you.

Speaking of you, this is probably his most central point of the entire composition. While the market today is tilted towards the elite, the average student still has the ability to succeed and make college meaningful. Even though great teachers are hard to come by, it is still up to the student to make the right choices to get the most out of their higher education investment. It is for the student that this book is most valuable to; eat this book up and take the lessons Professor Deresiewicz provides in stride. After all, as I described in the beginning, this is the real strength of this book: it is a great college lecture.

The Payment Strategy to Eliminate your Student Debt

Everyone can remember at least one test, or a series of exams/essays, that final week or two of undergraduate studies. This is the last hurdle for the vast majority of students as they embark on the phase after graduation from lifelong scholarship. As everyone was fretting about how much time they should dictate to study vs social obligations, the most looming and practical test of all lay hidden among the chaos.

So much time and effort was used up to satisfy the wishes of the academia personal tasked to decide if you did or did not live up to the mantra of the university you and they represent, the majority of us really forgot what it all cost.

Welcome to the exit counseling exam mandated by the federal government. Once you graduate, all borrowers enter a six month grace period, resulting in their loan payments become dormant. Correctly estimated by the federal government, all federal student loan borrowers have found a worthwhile career that strongly supports their financial situation and allows them to pay monthly student loans only six months after graduation….

The exit counseling exam borrowers have to go through after graduation describes the bleak reality of what your undergraduate experience really costs. After blindly accepting a loan that will constraint you for the better part of a decade(s) at the age of 18, you are now directed to choose a repayment plan that will help you/the loan provider pay/get your money back.  When the federal loan program started, borrowers didn’t have an option to choose other financial strategies to pay their loan(s) back. They had one choice, and the choice still exists today. The Standard repayment plan is a 10-year (120 month) strategy that gives the borrower a rigid monthly charge that must be paid to subtract their principal and interest charges. This is the default plan, but easily the most expensive.

Today, the federal government has made strides to improve the situation and mitigate the credit default problem. Here are two plans, and one public service acknowledgement, that every borrower needs to read into…

Income-Based Repayment Plan

Since 2009, the income-based repayment plan is the most common, multifaceted, repayment strategy borrowers have chosen. Re-calculated every year after filing your taxes, the income-based repayment plan calculates your monthly payment obligation per your submitted annual income. This percentage is based on a 25 year strategy, including complete loan forgiveness after 25 years. If your documented yearly income is under the 150% estimated poverty line, or around 18k for a one person household, your monthly accepted payments are 0$.

Pros –

If you do not have a job, or stuck in minimum wage, this plan is ideal for you. You do not accrue penalties for not paying anything for your loans because under this plan, you will owe 0$. This allows you to get on your feet and get by for the time being. In addition, this plan can be very helpful if you find a well-paying job quickly after filing your tax information in early February. If you are already in this plan, and you get a new job in March, you will not have to switch your 0$ monthly payment until you refile your taxes the following year.  This allows you to save a bit of money and make a large payment to your student loans once you start making monthly payments. Make sure to read how to make that payment and receive a fiscal bonus here.

Cons –

Well, for one thing, if you make more money annually than you collectively owe, you will no longer qualify for this program. However, that is probably not necessarily a bad thing right?? I mean, making 133$ monthly payments might seem awesome, but 10k more than that previous 35k salary sounds way better huh.

In addition, if you do stay in that 25 year-long repayment plan and get forgiven, that means you would have been paying monthly loans for 25 years – that is 300 months! To have that financial burden on you for that long can severely handicap your life decisions.

This plan is great to start off with; it gives you both the ability to “float” for a bit as you find a position financial situation and it also allows you to save money to put together a large first student loan payment. In the end, however, you will want to quickly change to a more suitable plan…

Pay as you Earn (PAYE)

Coming a little after the income-based repayment plan, the PAYE plan is applicable to a much larger group of borrowers. Starting at a little over 1% of your total student loan debt if you make an annual reported 20k, the monthly bill can get as high as 8.2% congruent on an annual 100k reported income. This percentage does decrease the more dependent household members you have, but it is still rather affordable. All loans are forgiven after 20 years. If you want this version of the plan, but an accelerated repayment period, check out the Revised Edition of the Pay as you Earn plan.

Pros –

Also having the ability to have 0$ payments if applicable, the PAYE allows the borrower to have calculated, reduced monthly payments for the (majority) of their student-debt years. With the ability to make 100k and still have favorable payments, the PAYE is more superior in this aspect than the IBR plan.

Cons –

Harder to qualify for. This is really the only negative; the federal government is really making strides on creating manageable debt for borrowers by evidence of this plan. However, it is harder to qualify for. A main piece of the application that is usually a deterrent for these applicants is credit score history. If the borrower has an undesired credit score history, it may hinder their ability to be on the PAYE. Read how to manage credit history here on my second shameless plug of this piece!

Winner: Both (but really PAYE)

Ideally, a borrower wants to start with the income-based repayment plan and then switch to the PAYE once they have a strong financial situation with a good credit history. Of course, if you already have a strong credit history, the PAYE is the true winner.

Lastly, a note for those who are working in a public service i.e. our real champions, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is an ideal fit for you. Any “public service” orientated and non-profit job allows you to be placed on a 10 year loan-forgiveness program. Ten years (120 months) of consecutive payments qualifies you for complete loan forgiveness. Yes, 120 payments on the IRB plan will free you from the student loan burden. While 10 years is still arguably too long, this is still a great start. Follow the hyperlink to apply!

5 ways to conquer (and benefit from) your credit card and it’s score

This article is for everyone, but is targeted towards current University students and recent grads. This information is important for YOU as you start to become financially independent and understand why you couldn’t get a Gatorade every time you went grocery shopping with Mom.

Credit cards are tricky — usually we hear all of the bad stories via media and that one relative’s bad experience. Fluctuating between Mastercard and American Express, the payments slowly build and the penalties mount as you scramble to find a way to manage your financial situation. This leads to bad credit, which leads to high interest rates and purchase declines — a recipe for instability.

Done and managed correctly, however, credit cards can lead you to an oasis of possibility and hope! No longer will you be held captive by your own financial incompetence! ….

No, it is not that cheesy.

Really, what strong credit card management gives you is stability — instead of struggling paycheck to paycheck, credit cards can give you the opportunity to financially march ahead with your head held high. It allows you to take control, and yes even benefit, from your fiscal situation. With that being said, here are 5 ways to conquer, and benefit from, your credit card and it’s score.

1: Options, Options, Options

This is an obvious one, but I still want to include just to make sure you have all of the right information. There isn’t one “perfect” credit card; their benefits, APR, annual fees, foreign transaction fees, etc can all dictate which credit card is the best for you. Sometimes even two credit cards can be helpful (see point 3). The point is, do your research and decide which ones make the most sense for your current fiscal situation.  Here are a few websites to start out with….

Student Credit Cards

Wallet Hub’s Card Comparing Tool

Comparing Beginning Credit Cards

NerdWallet allows you to choose different options for viewing top credit cards. Make sure to check out their 2016 list for best travel credit cards:

Do you Research

A note when looking at credit cards — if this is your first one, you must look at entry level credit cards. If you try to apply for “nicer” credit cards, you will get denied (bad/no credit) and being denied further hurts your credit score. Rather than repeatedly getting denied for cards you can’t get, settle for an entry level card and build credit – sometimes all it takes is 6 months – and then apply for a more “friendly” credit card.

2: Take Advantage of the Technology

Even though 11 year olds shouldn’t really have credit cards, they do have the opportunity to effectively manage them. We all have this mini laptop in our pockets that gives us the ability to learn and find anything. While the knowledge is there, we need to get better with using it. One perfect way to illustrate this is Bank Apps.

Every major bank/credit card company has their own app by now (and if yours does not, you may want to do some shopping) that gives you the ability to see your transactions in real time and manage your account(s). Specifically with the credit card apps, you can link your checking/savings account to your credit card account. This gives you not only the ability to make seamless transfers from your bank to your credit card, but you can also set up an automatic direct deposit function and not even need to trigger that transfer. Literally, you can make it so your credit cards’ monthly payment is made automatically without any remembering or alarms being set. You are free from responsibility! Well, more like you are taking control of your responsibility without letting it take control of you. Because you have this ability to effectively manage different apps from your phone, doing #3 is quite manageable…

3: Have more than One credit card

Now, I really only advise to take this step if you are also taking step 2. The more credit cards you have, the easier it is to mismanage them and rack up penalties.

If you feel confident about managing them, however, then it really is beneficial to have more than one card. Each card has different perks, so being able to take advantage of perks by juggling more than one card is quite helpful.

In addition, the more credit lines you have open, the stronger your credit score is. If you have multiple lines of credit open and never miss a payment, your credit score improves – simple math using averages. Now, no one needs 7 credit cards, but managing 3 or even 4 is a realistic possibility. This leads to the 4th point….

4: Old credit is good credit – avoid closing credit cards

Once a reward is “used” for a credit card, people tend to try and cancel the credit card. Unless that credit card has an annual fee (which you can sometimes get waived if you threaten to cancel), always keep your credit cards open.

Now, it is important to make note of a credit card that you do not want to use anymore – simply writing ‘Don’t Use” in sharpie and keep it in your home desk will suffice. But there really isn’t any need to close the credit card. If you do not have any automatic payments attached to it, it will not accrue fees for simply being “unused”.

By closing a credit card, you indicate to your credit score that you could no longer “manage” that card and had to get rid of it. This will negatively affect your credit score. On the opposite side, by having more credit cards open, you gain more “points” and drive your credit score up (hinted in #3).

So, if I am advised to have multiple credit cards, never close them, and always have to manage them, where and how does the actual “benefit” happen?…

5: The Benefits

Every card has their own benefits, and as I have mentioned repeatedly, you will need to do your research on this! How to utilize multiple benefits, however, is something I want to highlight for you — specifically, one main scenario that will allow you to use benefits without changing your daily expenses (because you have to pay this).

Paying student loans

So you are in undergrad, or just graduated, and are currently in this beautiful period called The Grace Period. It is here that you are not required to make monthly payments (although your interest still accrues) and you have the ability to save money. What you should be doing is saving little by little so you can be prepared to make a large payment the moment you enter repayment.

When you are ready to make this large payment, make sure to apply for a credit card that gives a bonus for 3,000k purchase(s) in the first 3 months. Then, use your newly applied credit card to make a 3k payment, pay it off right away with the money you have been saving, and reap the benefit. You don’t even need to spend another 1$ on that credit card — you simply get the reward by strategically paying off your loan.

For example, if you (or if your parents help) save 70$ a month starting your first month of Undergraduate for the next 4 years ((70×12)x4) = 3,600 — going above what we asked for! And if you do this, you will qualify for 40K bonus miles from Capital One Venture Card. That would could help you plan quite the graduation trip!

Or, if 3k is too much, Chase Freedom rewards you with free money for making 500$ worth of purchases in the first 3 months.

At the very least, you should look into the Discover Cash Back credit card. While there is not an initial sign up bonus, it will match all rewards accumulated throughout the year (1% on all spending, 5% on special categories). If you plan on making many large purchases that year, this is a great card to start with!

_____________________

The main way to utilize your benefits is by lining up your monthly/yearly payments appropriately with certain rewards. Since you already need to make the payments, line it properly so you can benefit from it!

Lastly, while the monetary benefits are great, the real benefit is something you cannot see everyday: your credit score.

Credit score is a very important thing to build as you meander your way through your 20s. Credit score dictates what you can/can’t buy or borrow and how much interest you have to pay on it. Better credit score = lower interest, but visa versa does exist. Using credit cards wisely and effectively allows you to build credit score and accumulate benefits without needing to drastically change your spending habits. Follow these steps and you will be on your way!

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