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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

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.

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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

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!

A Student Load Solution

I get paid once a month on the 15th (+/- days if during weekend) directly to my bank account.

My fancy iPad and bank account app sends me an alert from my Checking account telling me I got paid – woohoo!

Next to my bank account app is my: Housing App, Car Payment app, Credit Card app, Investment App, and Student Loan app. Technology makes payments and financial management that much easier!

Now, time to make my monthly payments – disclosure, all payments are exact to give a real idea of the magnitude of this problem.

457$ to Rent

140$ for Car

350$ for Credit Card (roughly)

200$ for Investments

300$ for Savings Account

550$ for Student Loans…

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Yes, my most costly expense each month are Student Loans. This is more expensive than the apartment I live in. I am fairly confident that I am not alone in the fact that my most costly expense each month is student loans. If you pay any attention to our country’s economic, political, or social climate, you are well aware that student loans are a “hot button” topic. Half of the voting population is drowning in it, while the other half of the voting population is sick of hearing about it.

This isn’t another article complaining about the student debt problem. Realistically, it isn’t going to magically disappear for the people who currently have it. While some ideas might help mitigate it for future University students, this policy will probably not include a “Grandfather” clause to rope us current 20somethings in.

Instead, I want to present an interesting and innovative option to paying these student loans.

Each month, I contribute 3% of my income to my Company’s 401K. This money comes out pre-tax and is automatic. In addition, my company matches up to 6% for each contribution. What a great benefit!

So…. Why don’t we have the same option for Student Loans? It could come out pre-tax (saving the student money in the long term), it would be automatic (making sure the federal government gets their payments), and it would be an attractive benefit for companies to market (making the company a bigger draw for potential employees).

In practice, the employee would be able to “activate” their pre-tax student loan payment, attach their student loan payment information to their benefit’s software program, set a designated amount, and boom; next month, that 550$ is automatically taken out of their check BEFORE tax. Potentially, the employer may add a matching amount as well (to stay competitive with their benefits) like the 401k.

Yes, this would only apply to student loans, but these are the main loans being used by students. Yes, there are a couple different federal loan agencies, but there are also a couple different financial 401k institutions. And yes, not every student has student loans, but not every employee takes advantage of their 401k options.

Let’s break down the benefits for the three parties involved…

The Companies

First off, not all companies offer a 401k package, and even less offer the opportunity for it to be matched by the employer up to a certain percentage.

However, any competitive company that functions in a competitive market usually do/need to offer the 401k package in order to stay relevant and attract talent to join their workforce.

By also adding this benefit to their overall package incentive, young talent will come flocking to their companies.

If they do not match up to a certain percentage, it will not cost them a single thing. Simply, they will be taking the money out of their employees’ pay before depositing the payment into the employee’s account. Just like the 401k package. In addition, if they do match, they could offer the employee the option to either be matched on their 401k contribution or their student loan contribution. Young adults cannot afford to have 200$ taken from them and put into a 401k account; they need to use that money for real things now like student loans.

Additionally, there is the potential for federally-backed assistance if they offer this benefit….

The Federal Government

Why would the federal government benefit?

Well, for starters, last year the default rate of student loans came in at 11.8%. While that seems high already (1 out of 10 students??) it actually fell from 13.7% in 2014.

For every student that defaults on their loans, the government loses that money. More importantly, it creates a 20something citizen that will struggle to buy/rent a: house, car, apartment, land, buildings, etc for the rest of their life. This is because if you default on your loans, your credit gets shot. This hurts not only the federal government, but the economy as a whole.

Losing money is one thing, but creating a whole generation of young adults who can never contribute to the housing market, the stock market, or the small-business market? That is devastating to the continuing health of our economy.

In addition, by companies having this policy, this almost assures the federal government that they will make their money back. 20somethings are not really skilled at saving money (might be a good thing to teach in high school, public education?) so by having this option, the money is already gone and the monthly loan payment is already paid.

I would also think that the federal government would offer interest reduction for the student if they are in this plan (like how there is a .5% reduction for direct deposit) and I would imagine they would offer business subsidies for companies that offer this as well.

Lastly, the federal government would be able to track exactly how much debt is being paid each month by students. With this program, the government could see how many borrowers fit into each “student loan bracket”. This would help: determine better federal funding policies, make accurate predictions on the economy/federal revenue stream, and find creative ways to help those that are drowning. The statistical benefit of having this information centralized is hard to categorically rate due to the creative ways the federal government could use this, but is enormously beneficial nevertheless.

Now, onto the real winners…

The Borrowers

Ah, the individuals receiving the direct benefit of this policy. Aside from the fact that the direct answer to “how would they benefit” centers around the theme that their student loan would get paid off, there are actually many other real benefits to this policy for borrowers (graduates).

They would have a more real-time idea of how much money they actually “take home”. Debt is a concept that is hard for young borrowers to understand. Because we first accrued our debt when we were 18, we did not really have any tangible idea of what this meant. We weren’t being given 45,000$ in hard cash that first year; instead, we were put in an privileged opportunity to live in facilities that existed for the sole purpose of improving ourselves. For the majority, it doesn’t seem like college costs a thing because we were just borrowing it. Of course, there are some that work 40 hours a week while attending college and getting a daily reminder of how much it costs, but that is far from the norm.

Fast forward to graduation and every student taking the final entrance counseling mandated by the federal government. It is here when you first realize the magnitude of your borrowing actions. You get a very black & white picture of: how much money you took, how long it will take to fully pay off, the difference between principle and interest, and how much that interest is really worth.

Now, every month, you walk a very narrow and tight walkway making sure you have enough money to move onto the next one.

At least with this program, you will understand from the get-go how much that actually is. Some, but not all, traditionally make the student payment right when they get paid. Most wait until the actual student loan payment due date is pay. After that, it is a slow crawl until next payday. With this program, you can learn how to budget your money and time better for the next payday, rather than being slammed after you delay your payments.

Now onto the obvious benefit for borrowers —

When I look at my paycheck each week, I see so much of my money being taken away from me for programs that don’t (at least seem) to be directly benefiting me. I personally believe that this benefits society, which benefits me; but still, this is quite a bit of money to always “lose”.

This program would allow you to use this pre-tax haven to pay off your student loans. You wouldn’t need to subtract this from your after-tax income. Instead, you could make you student loan payment before tax, and your actual paycheck that gets deposited into your bank account is free from student loan payments – yippie!

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Of course, if it was this easy, it would already be done, right? Someone who writes in run-off sentences and improperly placed quotations can’t be the first person to propose this in writing.

A similar bill has actually been introduced in Congress. The Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act was drafted last Fall (2015) by a group of eight bi-partisan Senators. If passed, it would allow employers to contribute 5,280$ per year pre-tax to their employers. This is different than what I proposed — free money! – but is equally, if not, even better.

While that Act would be supremely beneficial, it would be hard for a vast majority of companies to offer that benefit. Most companies can’t just give away money like that to their employers. In addition, wouldn’t senior members who do not have to pay student loans (or 20somethings that did not take on debt) be a little peeved?

My proposal could be utilized by a wide variety of companies, especially companies that can’t afford to match the monetary payments made by their employers. Let borrowers take control of their debt and give freedom to companies that want to market themselves better. Lastly, and most importantly, let the federal government gain a centralized way to really understand the student debt situation and provide it statistical resources to find creative ways to tackle it. This is how we can address the bigger problem.

The 6 Real Reasons Why We Need the Liberal Arts Degree

Last weekend, I visited Drake University to watch my sister’s graduation. She graduated with a BS in Psychology and is on her way to do many different and exciting things with this opportunity. Because of the type of education she received, her last semester consisted of classes focused on: East Asia, Ideology of Terrorism, Political Revolutions, and economic collapses — basically, nothing to do directly with psychological sciences.

The President of this prestigious university gave the usual “good luck” graduate commencement speech, but made sure to highlight a couple important themes related to present-day society. As a University that has recently hosted democratic debates and became an important focal point in this year’s Iowa primary elections, Drake University represents everything that is essential about a Liberal Art education.

Before diving into this article, it is important to understand what exactly is a liberal arts education.. Thanks to the wonderful powers of Wikipedia, I can give you a more direct translation. In today’s society, a liberal arts education consists of a degree that covers all sciences (biological & social), as well as the humanities. It focuses not directly on the pursued discipline, but instead focuses on a well-rounded education. Why, you may ask, would it be necessary to study history when you want to be a Registered Nurse? Don’t those extra classes cost you money and time that you could otherwise just direct towards your degree and discipline?

Let me give you 6 reasons why the American Liberal Arts degree is so essential to our society today.

  1. The History of America starts with the Liberal Arts Degree.

Modern American scholarship started in the late 18th century and early 19th century in the New England states of this nation. These universities taught the humanities – classics, Latin, English, literature, rhetoric, and art. Later, before the Civil War, the United States recognized the need to develop applied sciences and passed the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. This act allowed famous universities such as: Iowa State, Cornell University, University of Wisconsin Madison, the Ohio State University, and many more to have the finances necessary for establishment. It created higher education opportunities for the everyday American, including recently freed African Americans. It raised literacy and civic knowledge rates and is widely recognized as the concept that catapulted the United States into the Industrial Revolution and economic dominance.

Using the established humanitarian curriculum, Land Grant Colleges used this knowledge and combined it with applied sciences to create a a whole new education; one focused on building a well-rounded American who could strategically express their civic duty at the appropriate time and contribute daily in their desired profession. This created one of the most powerful societies at the turn of the 20th century and would usher in a new living standard. The history of America was built upon the Liberal Arts education, and the future now depends on it.

  1. Chemists do not make great Parent Teacher Association (PTA) participants.

I have two reasons why I chose the Chemist profession to pick on.

One – my Chemist professor, Mr. Severson, was a brilliant man who knew everything there was to know about Chemistry. He was also, on the other hand, off his rocker and would not be the person you would want to trust your 6 year old kid with. Two – I hate/am terrible at Chemistry…

What I mean by this section is that too often people get “specialized” into a particular way of thinking and perspective. A chemist too often has a hard time finding something in common with a trucker, a baseball coach, or a writer. They have been trained and specialized in one particular discipline — leaving little room for anything else.

Now, I’m not trying to pick on Chemists, I am just using them as an example (side note — guess which class gave me my only college C) to explain my theme for this section. In order for a civil, democratic society to work (the one our forefathers tried to build), you need an educated class. This class needs to be educated in a variety of disciplines because the problems we face are always changing and always need innovative perspectives and solutions to combat them. A liberal arts education provides this thorough education and allows our society to have citizens whom can converse on multiple topics and understand multiple perspectives.

  1. The World is so Small!

Yes, everyone is aware of globalization and the fact that our world is so small today compared to a century ago. We have heard the mantra of politicians and teachers repeatedly voice this issue and they strive to make sure we understand it; but what exactly does it mean for us and what should we do about it?

To successfully live in a globalized world, you need to understand certain themes like culture, economics, politics, history, technology, language, etc etc etc… These things will better equip you to not only succeed for yourself, but also help our world become a little better. We are of a generation that cares more about sustainability, peace, and social constructions than any other time in history. Globalization is the tool to achieve these lofty goals and carries a place for every individual. In order to succeed in this, however, you need the well-rounded tools to develop your character. Take a guess at what provides that…..

  1. Who actually knows what they want to be when they “grow up”?

My section my freshman year of college had 12 rooms, so 24 total students. Out of those 24, I can think of 8 that started as pre-med majors. Of those 8, only one is still pursuing it (a dentist, congrats Kyle!). While Pre-Med is a very ambitious start to college, the majority of other students have some sort of “idea” of what they want to do. I wanted to initially get a management degree and be a district manager (wtf) and become a part of Suburbia, USA. My liberal arts degree opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities available. While that sounds incredibly corny, it is true — I never would have realized my passions without taking some classes outside of the management track. By sophomore year, I became a history major who was planning to spend a year in Korea.

Very rarely do people realize exactly what they want to study and what profession they want to pursue. If you do, that is awesome – I am incredibly jealous of you because I am still working that out. For the other 93% of 17 year olds, this does not happen. You don’t have to be shackled with Calculus and Advanced Statistics classes and instead can be broken free with a Philosophy course on Ancient Greece and discover how math was initially constructed. A Liberal Arts degree provides you with the opportunity to discover internal passions you never knew existed and allows you to pursue them.

  1. The job market Expects you to have this flexibility.

My official undergraduate degree is a BA in History with a minor in Political Science. I, however, like to say that my BA is in Efficiency and Work Ethic with a minor in Time Management and Research. I now have a vast wealth of knowledge about East Asia and the 20th century because of my studies, but I gained so much more in practical skills because of my liberal arts degree.

I learned how to be efficient with my time in balancing my major classes with other classes like philosophy and formal logic that required me to do a bit more work (and find more help). I learned how to communicate with others, especially with people who did not think like me, in order to survive my more challenging classes. I learned how to study and learn new things quickly and really adapt to any situation or circumstance because of the ever-changing challenges that come with a varied schedule. Basically, I learned how to be a high-functioning chameleon that can adapt to any situation and learn how to be efficient and effective with multiple things in a short period of time.

This is exactly the sort of employee the job market is now looking for. Companies (and the public sector) want to have employees they can trust to learn new things quickly and balance multiple obligations.

Someone who has strictly been an accounting major from a generic state school most likely did not take a communication, history, or astrology class. What happens when that accounting manager has to talk to a VP of a major firm and is asked for his opinion about the historical legacy of the Roman’s opinion of astrology and its’ influence on Christianity? While that would be an outlandish “small talk” topic (for good measure, Romans used astrology to validate their religious switch from a pagan-orientated society to the now current monolithic Christian God belief), companies want a well-rounded individual that can speak on many different disciplines and not just the field they crammed for in four years.

  1. Who ONLY wants black socks?

This is my last point, but I think the most obvious one…

You are shopping for new dress socks at Express. You get to the sock section and next to the black socks are these beautiful argyle socks. You are overcome with emotion as you look at these beautiful patterns of yellows, greens, reds, purples, and blues! How could you possibly just buy the black socks now? I know they are a bit more expensive, but they will last longer and make a larger impression. You need to take the leap…

This is the exact same mindset when it comes to a Liberal Arts degree. It is a bit more expensive, but it will make a larger impression and be more meaningful. It is worth the investment in order to explore all of your options; not just simply taking the first one you come across. Companies will take the time to appreciate this and realize that you are more than someone who just simply buys black socks — you are looking at all socks with all perspectives.

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In the end, the most important point is that you evaluate all of your choices before making a decision. At 17-18, that is really hard to do; most of us are just focused on all the new pretty people you get to meet and the freedom to stay up until 3 (guilty). The Liberal Arts degree is a nice fail-safe for you in this journey. It gives you more options to select from after making the biggest decision (at the moment) in your life.  It will push you to be the best person you can be and give you all of the tools to find this individual. Not only will you succeed in your chosen profession, but you will succeed in being an active member in your community and country.

Now go out there and find the right argyle sock for you!

Checking Out

— This will purely be about me and an update for friends and family, just an fyi! —

I’m coming home.

And no, not just to visit. I am coming home for good. At least for the foreseeable future. August 5th.

I have mentioned a few times about the job I am / was beginning this September in Shanghai. It involved creating and teaching a Pre – Departure / English Language 6 – month booster program to be taught in multiple high schools in China to students who were planning to study in American high schools Fall 2016.

Unfortunately, the actual teaching part isn’t going to start until December. I’m still going to be writing the lesson plans, creating the lesson material, and training the Teaching Assistants and incoming teachers with our program during the fall, but I will no longer be living in Shanghai. I have been working on this since January, so I do not want to stop now. And it has been a great experience and a really cool concept. Most importantly, it is an income!

The truth is, I really wanted to get back to America. Too often expats get “stuck” in Asia; especially in China. I don’t want to live out my 20s in Shanghai; rather I want to be in the states with my family, friends, and my girlfriend.

Now, I will be focusing on obtaining my official state teaching license. I really want to do education administration ( like a principle or dean of a program) and all of those careers start with teaching! I also really enjoyed teaching this year, so might as well stick with something I enjoy.

But first — I have two old friends visiting me in China for two weeks. After, I will be in Thailand & Malaysia for 5 weeks! Life isn’t so bad after all 😛

Have a great summer and see you all soon

Samuel.

Eight thoughts on Eight Months in China: Reflections

Today marks eight months that I have lived in China. Some days this seems like such a small number, while other days it seems like eight years. This time period of my life has challenged me in ways that I never thought post – undergrad life would immediately do. Taking the unconventional route of [graduate > new place > new job] ( rinse and repeat X amount of times Generation Xers), I did not know what exactly to expect. However, that is one of the reasons I wanted to do this — it would bring new challenges and opportunities that I did not exactly expect

Is there an echo in here?

But seriously — how intense could China be? I did live in Seoul for a year, and I did travel around Southeast Asia solo for a couple of months. China was just another country……

I could not have been more wrong.
So without further unnecessary build – up, here are my eight thoughts on living in China.


Photo Credit: Champion Co – Teacher Helen Piel

One:     Chinese locals are the worst of strangers.

Before coming to China, I made sure to pack my Minnesota Nice tightly so it would not fall out. Since I live in the suburbs of my city, few foreigners are ever out and about so sometimes my presence is alarming to some of the locals. After getting over the initial shock of being constantly gawked at, I now have a “mental clock” of 6 seconds — after that, I will automatically throw out a “ni hao” to break my perceived awkwardness. Now, staring isn’t really a social sin in China (but don’t you dare point!), however it still can be hard to get used to.
With that being said, Chinese strangers rarely acknowledge each other and it has taken me eight months to figure that out.

Imagine if the United States went from a country of 400 million people, to one of 1.4 billion people. That means for every one person in your immediate area, times by 3. Crazy right — well hold on. The urban cities in China are becoming more and more populated due to the growing opportunities presented by a double digit growth economy. My city is a “second – tier” city at a palsy 8 million people… ( 12th most populated city in China). So let’s take our 1.4 billion Americans and shove them into the pre-Louisiana Purchase area —- that’s right, all 1.4 people need to live east of the Mississippi. For a real – life example, my city of Hangzhou is geographically the same size as my hometown of Inver Grove Heights with a population of 30,000 people. 8 million people in IGH…… wow.

With this reality, everyday survival is a competition against your neighbor. From the best schools and jobs, to the best raw vegetables and dumplings, Chinese people recognize that if they want something in this world, they have to take it. This is apparent by such characteristics like: driving, line-cutting, and a lack of queueing in general. At first this can be very oft-putting, but you need to have a sense of humor and a sense of cultural awareness. The next part, however, makes it all worth it…


Two. Chinese locals are the best of friends.

While they can be weary strangers, Chinese people are the most loyal of friends. This has been made evident from my closer relationships including some of my Chinese teachers and colleagues. What really drove this point home, however, was my local everyday encounters.

At first these people were random chefs, shop owners, and baristas. Now, they greet me with a Ni Hao Pengyou (friend) and a warm smile. This starts usually two or three mornings a week with a stop in McDonalds for a coffee to start a long day. The barista, Summer, regularly gives me a large when I order a medium and has some sort of conversation starter ready to fire away. I have a “noodle guy” who has an open noodle stand where you get to fill up a bowl of any of pre – cut vegetables and choose a type of noodle to mix it with. A stranger at first — now he will take my order first if there happens to be a large crowd. Chinese people tend to consider friendships “lifelong” and that they need to constantly strengthened in order to flourish.

 

Three. Economically, China still has a long way to go.

I was a bit naïve at first by only looking at recent economic statistics when evaluating China’s economy before arriving in China. It is easy to get swayed by annual double-digit GDP growth and consistent “second strongest economy” labels to thinking that China is a “developed” economy but that is simply not true. There are developed cities, but the vast majority of China would be considered by Americans as “developing”. A closer look at history highlights both the reality and amazement when it comes to China’s economy today.

Due to a turbulent mid – 20th century, China’s economy didn’t begin to “modernize” until 1978; almost a full 100 years after such economies like Western Europe and the United States began. For the next  20 years, China created one of the strongest export – driven economies in the world; accurately labeled as “the factory of the world”. While statistics favor this approach, the economy’s sustainability is compromised resulting in one of the largest income gaps in the world. The last 10 years has seen China shift to a consumer – driven economy to balance the income gap. Today, every Chinese citizen seems to own an iPhone and all aspire to someday own a vehicle of their own. Instead of taking 100 years like Western countries, China is defying history by modernizing their economy in less than 30 years. This is truly remarkable and is a fascinating phenomenon to witness.

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Four. The Pollution is a very real thing.

I think that is one of the first things Westerners comment about on China — the pollution. There have been many documentaries made about it ( of course not shown in China), but this was another phenomenon I was quite naïve about before landing in Chinaland.

At the beginning, I did not seem to notice it. That novelty seems quite confusing — since the pollution is so much stronger here, wouldn’t I be more aware of it initially? When you first land in China, you don’t really realize it is pollution. The first couple weeks will go by and you won’t really think of it. Of course, it’s not like the air is pollution – heavy every day in a row. During the “heavy” times, the pollution will be evident on 3 or 4 days of the week. Normally, however, there will be 5 or 6 days in between 1 or 2 polluted days (note: it varies from city to city but Hangzhou is quite polluted).

So at first, I simply just thought it was fog. Like a normal foggy day. Until, that is, you really examine the air. Some days you can see unnatural colors like orange or a lime green. You can really notice it when you look at the pollution near the sun. It took me about two months to really realize that it is not fog; it is real human – induced pollution. And it is very real.

Five. Chinese language is different from the English language

Big surprise here coming in at number 5, but I have some fresh perspective to add on this note.

I think the number one thing Chinese language learners first expect when they come to China is that they will just naturally become stronger Mandarin learners just by living in China (sneak peak, I did). I think it is quite common to hear study abroad stories about students returning from Spain or France after a semester or year of study and be fluent in the language. Chinese learners think that while studying Chinese in China will be helpful to becoming fluent, they also have the notion that they will learn Chinese faster just by living here through osmosis.

The difference between the Chinese language learner and the European language learner is that most European languages have similarities between English. Chinese has 0000000000000000000000000000000. You have to study this language everyday and go out of your way to practice. And no not just practicing the same conversation every time with the taxi driver or shop keeper and having them exclaim “ni de zhong wen fei chang hao” when you tell them you are American. No, sir, my Chinese is not excellent, I have just mastered “Wo shi mei guo ren” to a T. Each day is a battle, and the war still rages on.

Six. The opportunities are endless.

I imagine the economic atmosphere of China right now to being quite similar to the American gold rush, or the more contemporary Dot.Com era of the mid 1990s. The economy is exploding with new industry and there are many chances for any Average Joe to take it and make something with it. There is money to be made; you just have to take it. This goes for both Chinese nationals and foreigners, but I’ll stick to foreigners (like me).

New side jobs appear every day whether you want them to or not. English is one of the largest industries in China and lucky for me I am an official “Foreign Expert” on it. As you wonder how can someone who writes something littered with as many grammatical errors as this post be considered a “Foreign Expert”, consider this: I am American and therefore a native English speaker. This is the first qualification needed and I passed with flying colors. While I’m not going to sell myself short, for the time being I am going to sell myself short and move on (ha).

What is really neat about this is that you can create and implement a new company or idea without having 20 years of experience; which is exactly what I did. I wrote about my new job vaguely in my last post, and I am not going to articulate it here, but to make it short I would not be given this opportunity outside of China due to my lack of qualifications. I have been trusted and given free reign to create something and I am damn sure going to triumph from it. Like the dot com era when start – up companies and ideas grew exponentially in only two or three years time with no previous experience, China’s economy right now is taking risks and chances and is inviting every one and anyone to play.

Saw Voice “Live or die, the choice is yours”

Seven. The generational gap is staggering.

In America, our parents and even some grandparents are “somewhat” tech – savvy. They understand how to use computers and social media, and occasionally drop the word “tweet” in every day conversation —–  cringe – worthy indeed. There is somewhat of a gap, but not nearly as large as some teenagers like to proudly boast.

In China, there is an equivalent gap. Most parents and grandparents in China as almost as equal to American parents and grandparents in the tech – savvy department. In fact, I get the feeling that there are more iPhone grandparent users in China than in America …. So why the title?

The generation gap I am talking about is generally knowledge based. While Chinese parents might have had the opportunity to attend university, their parents (grandparents) almost certainly did not. They would have been lucky to have an organized education after the age of 12. Due to China’s turbulent modern history, education was not nearly as comprehensive as America’s (or expanded to Western Europe) education during the same time period. An example is the language.

Standard Mandarin has only been required in school since the early 1980s. That means for most of China’s population, they do not have the ability to speak in the official tongue of their country and instead resort to their local dialect. Culturally, as well, China’s generation gap is huge. China has only been exposed to the Western world within the last 30 or 40 years (albeit with tight restrictions). This has led to many differences between the young and the old when considering foreign nations and cultures. Which leads me to my last point…..

Eight. China is incredibly curious about the outside world.

My students (well, the Freshman) bring eager attitudes every day to my class to soak up as much knowledge as they can about all things not – Chinese. China has been the center of the world for so long (literally, China in Chinese translates in English to middle kingdom) that since it has lost the spotlight the last 150 years or so, it’s eager to learn what it has missed. Most Chinese young adults today want to learn as much as they can about other countries, people, culture, food; anything they can get their hands on (with subtitles of course)!! The generation of youth in China today is ready to become a world player, and leader, once again.

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While I could elaborate on what this could mean socially (and politically) for future in the near future, I am going to stop here. This has been quite the composition and I can only hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed expressing my thoughts.

Please let me know if you would like to learn more about any of the topics I mentioned (or ones I haven’t) and I will be eager to serve your needs. I could have created a separate blog post for each point; but am far too lazy to do just that. Do not hesitate to ask for more about something.

I hope all of you are reading this with good spirits and positive weather your way! Hangzhou is just about to climb into humid – heavy territory, a.k.a Sam’s kryptonite, so wish me luck. Sending lots of love to your location.
Peace & Blessings

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