What I Know Now About Visiting Morocco

Why did I choose here of all places? What was appealing about the desert, only four hours of electricity at night, and washing my clothes in a river? To be honest, it was the prospect of a different perspective. It was the challenge of pushing my comfort zones and defying the stigma behind traveling to certain countries as a woman. It was to learn about a culture that has influenced parts of Europe in language, architecture, and cuisine. Visiting Morocco was challenging, but beyond rewarding.

Getting to Morocco is relatively straightforward. Its close proximity to Europe makes it easily accessible by plane or through the Strait of Gibraltar. I would suggest traveling both ways. Going by boat into Tangier from Tarifa is a fun way to take in the coastlines of the respective continents and see the influence Muslim culture had over southern Spain. The first time I went to Morocco, however, I took a cheap flight with Ryanair from Rome into Rabat. Here are some things I know now about visiting Morocco.

1) Make Sure You Know Where You Are Going

I know it sounds simple. You already bought the plane ticket. You obviously know what country you’re going to. However, make sure you have directions to where you’ll be sleeping. We arrived in Rabat as the daylight cast shadows across the streets. We had booked a room through Couchsurfing

Finding a taxi from the airport wasn’t hard, but the language barrier proved to be difficult. All we had was an address on a piece of paper. Ensure you have photos of your route or landmarks around the place you’re staying. We handed the paper to the driver and sat back with high hopes. 

Eventually, we were dropped at a restaurant on an empty street. The taxi driver didn’t know the address and said he couldn’t help us. This is when we realized we should have purchased a temporary international data plan. With the phone plan, we would have been able to contact our host or use Google Maps. We wandered the streets instead, following the directions of the restaurant staff until by sheer luck we found our host’s flat. 

2) Take the Scenic Route When Visiting Morocco

Don’t be afraid to stop and enjoy the scenery. The morning was brisk and the terrain flat until we reached the foothills of the mountains that stretched from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The Atlas Mountains boast diverse terrain and wildlife. It is a place you should visit to discover the Berber culture and lifestyle. Multiple times along the way we pulled over to admire the green contrast against the sandy hills. 

The oasis stretched for miles, home to the only civilization in the desert. Our driver spoke of a forest full of monkeys outside the city of Azrou. The forest is home to Barbary macaques (or Barbary apes). These are the only species of macaques found outside of Asia. As we wandered the paths staring into the trees, small, furry creatures emerged from the brush. Two puppies wobbled out to greet us and laid sleepy in the morning sun. Although we wanted to take them both, we had to leave them behind. 

3) Remember That You Are a Tourist

Our journey led us to a local in Marrakech, driving six hours with our driver who was a shy man, and sleeping amongst the towering cliff sides of the Todra Gorge. The latter being our final destination. A river cut its way through the course, tan rock faces; leading through a single hotel, the community gardens, and a small Berber village. This is where we learned the most about Berber culture. Our friend Watik, whom we had met the first time visiting Morocco, lived with his family on a mountain top; a two-hour hike up the Todra Gorge.  

We loaded up the donkeys with crystal clear water we collected out of a small stream that made its way through the rough rocks and came out at the bottom of the gorge. Let me tell you one thing though: there were fish in it. Yes. We drank fish water. If you don’t have a strong immune system, I wouldn’t recommend it. My friend was sick for two days. 

Another thing our friends told us was that only men were allowed to collect this freshwater. Women were not allowed. However, seeing as I was a tourist, I couldn’t resist. I asked Watik if I would offend anyone and he said no. 

One thing I had realized by this point visiting Morocco was that the locals didn’t want tourists to dress like them or try to ‘not be a tourist’. Tourism drives their economy and they know that. However, still be respectful and ask. I went over and put my gallon jugs into the fresh cold stream and filled them one by one. 

4) Sample the Local Cuisine

Heading into the mountains, the donkeys carried the necessities; our water and, most importantly, Berber bread. If you haven’t had this bread, you should. They eat it with every meal. Each night we huddled on the floor around a single plate of couscous and tagine. We split the bread in half, enough to use two fingers, and dug into the tagine, scooping it like a stuffing between the bread and shoving it into our mouths. Everyone partook at the same time. There was no silverware or plates. You took what you wanted, when you wanted. 

We had the opportunity to make this meal one night in the hotel and also on top of the mountain. On the six-hour drive over we also stopped for food and had a camel stew. For the Berbers, it is a delicacy, and to be honest you would have to try it to understand that it doesn’t taste like chicken. Back in the mountains when we reached the peak, there was a symbol made out of rocks. It resembled a stick figure, but the bottom of the figure mirrored the top. I asked Watik what it meant and he told me it meant ‘free people’. He said we would find it on every peak and oftentimes on peoples’ front doors. Standing on the mountain peak as the sun set over the Todra Gorge, you could hear the faint cries of the shepherd’s herd. 

5) Learn a New Skill

Watik’s family took us to another peak at dusk and brought mint-flavored shisha to enjoy at the top of the mountain’s peak where they lived. We sat up there smoking and watching the sunset as they brought out a sort of sling with two retention cords on either side of a leather pouch. This method of slinging goes back centuries.

Used in many different forms over different cultures, we learned how to use this sling to herd goats. Placing a rock in the pouch, you swing the sling around your body until you are ready to release. You usually try to hit on the opposite side of where you want the herd to go. This spooks the goats and forces them the other way and the direction you would like them to move. My friend and I tried this technique many times. The rock went everywhere but straight. Oftentimes it would fly above us or behind us. 

The next day we made our way down the mountain to do our laundry. We insisted on doing it ourselves to learn the customs. They handed us a plastic tub and a cup of powder. They directed us to the river and we went calf deep. 

Let me give you one piece of advice: don’t fill your tub while facing downstream. I lost a few good pairs of underwear on my first try. Quickly realizing I was doing it wrong, I readjusted my position to face upstream and allowed the water to fill my tub. I sprinkled the powder soap into the tub and began scrubbing my clothes together. It was the most humbling experience I had while visiting Morocco, especially coming from a western lifestyle where we have washers and dryers. 

6) Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

After rock climbing, one of our fellow climbers said there was a local hammam she wanted to try but didn’t want to go alone as a woman, so we accompanied her. Hammams are public bathhouses and we were not ready for this. When we arrived, a man at the front counter gave us a rag and a substance wrapped in plastic wrap. That brown glob was the soap. There was a gentlemen’s side and a ladies’ side. When we entered all the women were naked and stared at us. We proceeded to a bench and laid our clothes down.

We undressed and a woman approached us and started telling me something in Arabic. I couldn’t understand her but she was pointing to my underwear. She was telling me that our underwear was to remain on. Then she took all three of us through the curtains and we entered what looked like a college shower room. Women were bathing their children and some children were small enough that they just sat in their five-gallon buckets watching as we walked past. 

Playing soccer collegiately, I was used to a shared shower room. What I wasn’t prepared for was a woman bathing me personally. They threw us around on the floor like we were five years old again. They scrubbed us and both the women and children were fascinated with my tattoos. Everyone huddled over me and turned me over and around this way and that to see each one. At the very end, they stood all three of us against the wall and each woman took turns throwing buckets of warm water at us as the final rinse. As uncomfortable as it may have been, I would do it all over again. 

7) You’ll Never Be Prepared for the Local Transport

Let me tell you, unless you have a private car, you will never be prepared for what you may experience with local transport while visiting Morocco. As our trip came to an end, Watik and his friends found a local charter bus that could take us back to Marrakech. This was by far cheaper than a private car, however, you sacrifice some security and personal space. The charter also needed to make frequent stops in cities and so our quick six-hour drive became a ten-hour schlep. 

To get to the bus station, we had to take local transport from the small village in the gorge and it was packed. People were on the roof, hanging on the sides, standing, sitting, and in any other position you could think of. We crammed ourselves on, wide-eyed, enjoying every second and taking it all in. When we reached the charter bus, no one was on the roof and it was a typical charter you would catch in France. 

Being in a country with undeveloped road systems, we quickly came to a flooded road. A river was crashing through and the local police only let one car pass at a time. Slowly wading through, we thought we would be swept away in the current. Making it through, we had seven more hours to go. 

Wrap Up

Go travel in the desert on camelback. Stroll through fields, gardened by generations of families. Hear the river that feeds on smaller streams that nourish it. Whether it’s by boat or by plane, I would recommend visiting Morocco. Travel with another person or a group, though. The cities are bustling, set against a terrain that is vast and rugged. Traveling with others is not only more fun to create memories together, but it is safer. Trying to defy the stigma of solo traveling as a woman is both gratifying and motivating, but there is a time and place when you have to read your environment and the culture. 

Sam and her friend visiting Morocco with an oasis behind them

When I went back two more times, each to different areas, I kept this in mind. The first time was exhilarating and exciting, but there were moments of uncertainty and situations that could’ve been harmful for my friend and me. Morocco is a progressive and modernizing country, however, the history and culture still run deep through its rivers. Go have fun, see the beautiful coastline and the blue city, Chefchaouen, but be conscious of where you are. 

by Samantha Moultrie

What I Know Now About Studying English in Australia

Leaving your country, family, friends, and your daily routine to go somewhere else to learn a new language can be quite scary at first. When I decided to leave Brazil for Australia to study English, the uncertainty of the future haunted me. I commonly battled fear and anxiety of the unknown. When I returned home nine months later, I realized that those feelings were nothing close to the happiness I experienced on my huge adventure and learning journey. Here are five things I now know about studying English in Australia.

1) Don’t Be Shy When Studying English in Australia

When I arrived in Adelaide, South Australia, in December 2018 I considered myself the most open-minded person in the world. Little did I know! It can be very difficult to adapt to a new life, deal with new customs, make new friends, and step out of your comfort zone. However, what I know now is that putting yourself out there is a MUST!

In my first few weeks at the South Australian College of English, I felt extremely shy. Over time I realized that if I didn’t talk to people and make friends, I wouldn’t enjoy the trip. After meeting many people from different nationalities, I realized that this anxiety and shyness were common to everyone. All of my peers felt that way, and the best way to deal with it was by making friends and having people to talk to. Most people in my class also wanted to make new friends, share experiences, and learn about new cultures.

During my last month in Australia, I organized an Australian barbecue at the house where I was living. I invited all my friends I met over the months. To this day, I have contact with most of them. You won’t regret it — I didn’t!

2) Don’t Be Afraid to Practice Your English

If you want to both travel and to spend money and time learning English you have to be immersed in it! In my first month in Australia, I used to feel too nervous to go to restaurants, bars, or even the supermarket alone. I felt afraid to speak to other people in English. This feeling is very normal and, again, common to most international students. However, you have to fight this and practice your English as much as you can.

Now, I know that my school has taught me a lot of what I know about the language. However, it is from these contacts and daily conversations that I better developed my understanding of English. Especially my speaking and listening! After I lost my fear a little, I felt very impressed by the rapid development of my understanding of English. Therefore, it is very important to be fully in contact with English at all times. An educational process doesn’t just happen inside the classroom. You need to practice in your daily life: that means watching movies and TV shows in English (with English subtitles only!) and chatting with your friends in English (including friends of the same nationality as you).

3) Not Everything Is Going To Go As Planned — And That’s Fine

If you had asked me, before my trip, what my plans were for Australia I would have told you several things. Little did I know about how life can surprise you. As my journey developed, I gradually came to understand that things were not going to happen the way I wanted, but the way they needed to be. Was it an easy process? Definitely not. There were weeks when, after tiring days studying and working, I felt overwhelmed. Moreover, as I have said a few times here, this feeling is normal among international students.

In Adelaide, I had a lot of trouble getting a job — mostly due to my lack of experience, and, also, bad luck. Over time, I learned that I had to be flexible and, again, step out of my comfort zone. I looked for jobs in other places, and ended up working with food delivery — a job option I never imagined myself doing. With this job, I could not only pay my daily costs but also save money for my next adventures (Australia typically pays highest wages).

At the end of my trip, one of the most important lessons I learned is that not everything is going to go your way. And that’s the best thing about traveling! In April 2019 I thought I wanted to stay in Australia forever. Two months later, I headed to Madrid to work as an au pair — but that’s another story for another time.

4) A Few Bad People Can Show Up, but You’re Not Alone

One of the things I had the most difficulty with in Australia was facing the bad people that came into my life. But, the hard fact to accept is that there are bad people everywhere, even in Australia, which is definitely not a place known for having bad people. What you have to do is ignore these people and try to fill your life with only happy, fun, friendly people. And what I can say is that this is not a feature that Australia lacks. In fact, with over 30% of the population made up of immigrants, South Australia is one of Australia’s most inclusive and diverse states.

In the previous topic, I mentioned my bad luck on the journey to get a job. Some of the bad people I also crossed paths in work environments in my first few months. I faced a tricky path until finding the strength to get through this. I found it in my friends and family who gave me the strength to move on. In Australia, international students can, thankfully, count on a huge international community of immigrants and students who will be there to help you with everything. What I learned, in the end, is that I was never alone.

5) Enjoy Your Trip

Lastly, what I learned is that every moment is unique. Even if you travel to the same place twice, the second time will never be the same as the first. On an international trip where your main goal is to learn a new language, and you must study and maybe even work, don’t forget to enjoy every second of your trip. Take your weekends to go out, to meet new people outside school. Go to bars or parties if you like it. Maybe, walk around on your days off, or travel somewhere else if you saved some money. Or even just check out another small city nearby. Call your friend from school and ask him to show you around, it’s definitely worth it. Take your time to be immersed in this new country, with a lot of different cultures and languages. Create some epic stories to tell your friends and parents when you go back home.

Also, remember that travelling alone is a good opportunity to be in touch with yourself. To learn more about you, your feelings, and how to love yourself. That’s the main lesson I learned after the trip. Take some time to get to know yourself a little better, to know your weaknesses and how to deal with them. After that, you might realize you’re your best, loveliest friend.

Wrap Up

One thing I always tell people when they ask me if it’s worth it to go to Australia to study English is: every experience is unique, you won’t know unless you go. Studying abroad can be a scary thing. Take your time, plan everything, save your money, talk to your friends, parents, and other travelers. If you want it, here’s your answer. Australia will welcome you with some of the finest wines and an epic summer. 

by Pedro Sampaio

What I Know Now About Teaching Primary School

Serenity on top of a mountain during her off time when not teaching primary school.

What I Know Now About Teaching Primary School in Madrid

So, do you think teaching primary school abroad is easy? Think again. Between the constant questions of “teacher, teacher, do you speak Spanish?” and the requests for a last-minute change to your lesson plan, being a foreign language assistant and teaching primary school can be exhausting. 

I spent two years working in a concertado school in Alcalá de Henares. Concertados are basically the same thing as charter schools. They are partially funded by the Spanish government and partially funded by parents’ payments. 

These schools require much more from the average language assistant, as your function in the school is essentially that of a teacher. They pay a higher stipend per month, but the hours are longer. If you are looking to have a professional position within a school, however, this is definitely the way to go. 

My experience in my concertado was difficult but rewarding. Here are some lessons that I learned teaching primary school in Madrid.

1) Always Expect the Unexpected

Here in Spain, everything is done last minute. From the granting of your visa to the server giving you that ketchup you asked for when your burger was still on your plate, the country consistently runs on a timer set 10 minutes slow. School is no exception. 

When I first began teaching primary school, I had absolutely no teaching experience. I was thrown in front of a class of wide-eyed Spanish children screaming my name with no classroom management skills. Boy, did I learn quickly. 

Not only did I learn how to be a teacher in a week, but I also quickly learned that teachers have a tendency to request the moon when you’ve prepared the sun. What I mean is that I would, at times, prepare an entire lesson on the opposite topic of what the teacher wanted that day. 

What I learned was to always be prepared with simple games that could be easily adapted to any topic. One of my favorites was a game where I would have the kids make paper planes. We would have a competition where the students would say a grammatical structure. If they were correct, they could throw the plane to attempt to get a point for their team. 

Kids never behave like you think they will. Sometimes, a class will be so quiet and perfect that you have 10 extra minutes at the end of your lesson, and other times you won’t even get halfway through by the time the bell rings. It’s important to always roll with the punches, and keep your cool. 

2) Teaching Primary School Can Be Fun!

Teaching primary school, despite how taxing it can be at times, is an absolute delight. Younger primary kids love to sing, whilst older primary students love a good old-fashioned competition. Basically, your multiple personalities get to shine depending on what class you’re teaching. 

With the little ones, I used to love to find songs related to our lesson plans and do a live performance. I would force all my students to stand up, sing, and dance with me. I also used the program GoNoodle, which is a fantastic educational website that offers various activities like dances and brain breaks. 

It is important with younger kids to provide a daily routine. Mine always began with a song or dance in English. For them, it subconsciously signified that it was time to start English class and that we would not be conversing in Spanish. I also learned that younger kids don’t have an attention span of more than 15 minutes. Activities that are longer than 15-20 minutes will inevitably cause classroom disturbances.  

The older kids don’t need as much structure, as your presence in the classroom will be enough to get them in the mood for English. Upper primary students love games and competition, although rules of respect must be set far in advance. Sometimes, they are a little too competitive. 

Teaching will be as fun as you make it, so it’s important to get your creative thinking cap on when you’re lesson planning. If you do it right, the kids will literally chant your name when you come into class. That’s because they know that you are a break from the monotony of other teachers. 

3) Your Kiddos Will Need Lots of Love

If you are from the United States like me, the physicality of countries like Spain will shock you. Pre-COVID, I would have at least five children come up to me and hug me before the class started, and normally at least two after class had ended. Here in Spain, teachers believe that children need a lot of love. It is okay to show them appropriate affection like hugs, or kisses for the babies. 

It is important to remember that children are often products of their environment. Unfortunately, this means that many kids who act out or are disrespectful, are often taught to do so at home. No child is actually “bad,” rather they are modeling behaviors that they have learned at home or from something they’ve been exposed to on TV.

One of the most important lessons that I took away from teaching primary school in Madrid is to always try and meet kids where they’re at. That doesn’t mean that you have to cave for them if they are being disrespectful, but you should always try and see the child as a person. 

No child is stupid, annoying, or hard to work with when you are in the classroom. Save your complaints for closed doors. You just might be the reason that a child, who all of the other teachers openly hate on, believes in themself and tries to be better. 

4) The Power of the Justificante

After moving to Spain, I discovered that this country is a mix of two really frustrating things; disorganization and bureaucracy. Justificantes are a Spain-specific type of paperwork. Essentially, a justificante is a piece of paper stating that you were at a doctor’s appointment, visa appointment, etc. They are the only way that you can be excused from school if you have either a medical problem or some sort of issue with paperwork. 

Without a justificante, a school can deduct your pay for a day that you skipped, even if you actually were at a doctor’s appointment. They are incredibly important to the school system. However, there are some ways around the justificante if your school coordinator (aka your boss) is nice enough to offer. At my school, if we ever had to miss a day without a justified reason, such as cheaper flights a day after the school holiday ended, we were allowed to stay an extra day at the end of the year to make up for our lost time. 

When working and traveling in a new country, it is incredibly important to be aware of the specific guidelines of that country, particularly when it comes to paperwork. The justificante was a concept that I was unaware of until I got to Spain. However, it is incredibly important to your job when you fall ill or need to get some paperwork sorted. Always do your research when you travel, particularly when it comes to paperwork or visa guidelines. You never want to get caught on the wrong side of bureaucracy. 

5) Don’t Forget to Explore a Little

If you go to another country to teach, it is super important to explore. Ask your colleagues about interesting places to go in the area. Do some research. 

While I was in Madrid for two years, I made it a point to get out every weekend, even if it was just for a simple walk or a tapa. I researched the best places to go in the community and asked around. I learned a great deal more about exploring my city and the community of Madrid by simply reaching out to people and asking. 

Even though I was a teacher, I learned a lot by forcing myself to meet people and experience things that I was not necessarily comfortable with. I never thought that I would eat an octopus, but now I can say I have tried it (although I was not the biggest fan). By learning about the area that you are living in, you will have the most authentic experience possible abroad. You will find the places that people actually go to eat, rather than the tourist hotspots. You will find a quiet corner that you never knew existed, and now feel that belongs to you. 

Teaching primary school in Madrid has been one of the most rewarding and interesting experiences that I can boast of in my professional career. Teaching abroad and working with children is rewarding, and one of the easiest ways to have an authentic cultural experience. You will be exposed to a country in a way that only comes from living there.

by Serenity Dzubay

Seven Magnificent Things to Do in Chicago

Chicago, the windy city. Once called the Second City, Chicago is now the third-largest city in the US after New York and Los Angeles. Sitting on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan, in the State of Illinois, Chicago is known for Al Capone, The Blues Brothers, being the starting point of Route 66, and great sports teams like the Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks. The city likes its B’s. With plenty of things to do in Chicago, here are my favourites.

1) Take a Walk in Millennium Park

With 24 public beaches, numerous parks, and plenty of attractions along Chicago’s 26-mile waterfront, you could spend all your time exploring that area alone. At 25 acres, Millennium Park is a huge green space that contains concert areas, manicured gardens, rock climbing, sculptures, and the famous Buckingham Fountain, featured in the opening credits of the TV sitcom, Married With Children. 

Between my wife and I, we’ve been to Chicago a half dozen times, taking in different sites each visit. We’ve found a huge variety of things to do in Chicago. On our last trip, we entered the park via the Cloud Gate, across Lakeshore Drive and the official starting point of the famous Route 66. There are bicycles to rent if you don’t think you can take in all the sites on foot. The Cloud Gate, better known as Chicago’s Bean, is a mirrored kidney bean-shaped piece of unique art. 

Near The Bean is the Crown Fountain, a black granite reflecting pool, situated between two glass brick towers that overlook the water feature and come to life with larger-than-life video images. Its ever-changing artistic displays complement the nearby Art Institute. Millennium Park sits between Lake Michigan and Lakeshore Drive, which skirts the great lake along the city’s eastern border. 

2) Moor Yourselves at Navy Pier, One of the Best Things to Do in Chicago 

About two miles north of Millennium Park is Navy Pier — a bit of a walk for most but easily reachable by bike, bus, or car. Off Lakeshore Drive, the entrance to the 3,300-foot pier is surrounded by more parkland and greenspace. Extending into Lake Michigan, Navy Pier offers things the whole family can enjoy. Besides restaurants like Harry Caray’s Tavern and Margaritaville, there is a giant Ferris wheel, various rides, and a funhouse. 

There is an observation deck at the end of the pier and various lake and river cruises, with the latter taking you into the city, along the Chicago River. The Billy Goat Tavern, a Chicago burger institution made famous on Saturday Night Live (think cheezborger, cheezborger, cheeps — no fries). Note: this is a franchise, the original location is downtown, off West Madison Avenue. Go there for the real deal. 

3) Stroll Along Chicago Riverwalk

From Navy Pier, follow the Lakefront Trail that goes under Lakeshore Drive and connects with the Chicago Riverwalk. Whereas there is a River Esplanade on the north side of the Chicago River, the Riverwalk follows the waterway’s southern edge. The scenic pathway, with towering skyscrapers on both sides, is below street level and takes you under an assortment of new and cool old city bridges. 

You can easily spend a whole day walking or cruising along the Riverwalk if you’re looking for things to do in Chicago. There are cruises from Navy Pier and water taxis that pick up and drop off at different stations along the waterway. As well as a concert area, there are several picnic spots, public washrooms, cafes, restaurants, brewpubs, and even a winery to check out. The Riverwalk dissects downtown, where countless stores and eateries can be reached by taking the stairs up to street level. 

The Chicago River is the only river in the world that flows in the wrong direction — a man-made feature to bring fresh lake water into the city. Due to the clay bottom, the water is a lovely blue-green color. It’s also dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day every year. The Riverwalk offers great views of buildings like the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower — once the tallest in the US) with its glass sky deck and Marina City.

4) Watch Sports 

Sports fans will love Chicago for its professional sports teams. Hockey has the Blackhawks, basketball the Bulls, football the Bears, and there are two teams for baseball — the White Sox of the American League and Cubs of the National League. The Cubs’ Wrigley Field is a national historic landmark and one of the last remaining century-old open-air ballparks. If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago, don’t miss this one.

5) Go Downtown

It’s been said that Chicago is one of the most easily walkable big cities in the US. However, if your feet can’t handle the action, jump on the L, Chicago’s historic elevated mass transit system that crisscrosses the city, running on steel stilts above city streets. Each time we’ve visited Chicago we stayed downtown for ease of access to the L for major sites and things to do.

On our last visit, we chose the historic Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Opened in 1893 as a world-class hotel, this place catered to famous folks from around the globe. While waiting to check in, a friendly hotel security guard took us on a tour. He showed us the beautiful grand ballroom and a secret outer room where Al Capone played cards. 

Just around the corner, we found one of the notorious gangster’s watering holes, the Exchequer Restaurant & Pub, on South Wabash. It’s a four-minute walk from the Art Institute of Chicago. The Magnificent Mile, a high-end shopping area, runs along Michigan Avenue, north of the river. If you visit the city in summer there are numerous music events, like Blues and Jazz festivals, held in Millennium Park. We took in the Jazz Fest on a previous visit. On our last trip, we dined at Andy’s Jazz Club & Restaurant. The meal was delicious and at one point our waiter excused himself to take the stage and sing. 

6) Explore Chicago’s Major Attractions

If the weather is sketchy and you’re in need of indoor activities there is the Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago Children’s Museum, and Field Museum. There’s the Chicago Theatre and Lyric Opera, or pamper yourself at the AIRE Ancient Baths. Even Chicago’s historic Union Station — the film location for countless movies — is something to see.  

7) Dine Out in Chicago 

Eating and trying regional specialties is one of our favorite things to do when Cathryn and I travel. Chicago offers traditional American cuisine but there are neighborhoods like Greektown and Chinatown that offer their own fare. Some folks rave about Chicago-style pizza, but we prefer our own Italian-influenced pie from home, in Windsor. You definitely have to try the burgers and experience the ambience at the original Billy Goat Tavern.

Navy Pier’s home to the Chicago Children’s Museum. Within that attraction, you’ll find Harry Caray’s Tavern. This is a family-friendly eatery serving American classics with plant-based options for visiting vegans. Head to Rush Street in the Gold Coast neighborhood at weekends where restaurants add al fresco seating thanks to the streets being blocked off to traffic.

Our last trip to the Windy City was for our journey along the historic Route 66, with its official starting point in downtown Chicago at the edge of Lake Michigan. To set the mood for our cross-country journey to Santa Monica, we had breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery, circa 1923, where they give out donut holes and Milk Duds after your meal. 

Celebrities from around the world have dined at Lou’s and it’s still a favorite for many locals. During our visit, I got to ogle members of the Chicago Police intelligence unit, decked out in their crested and matching black golf shirts. The team has been immortalized by the television show, Chicago P.D

I hope this article gives you a taste of what to expect on a visit to Chicago. If you liked reading it, I’m sure you will enjoy my site too. Why not drop by Life Written and Reviewed for a while?

by Edmond Gagnon

Diego Ambrosio Becomes a Professional in Thailand

Diego AmbrosioDiego Ambrosio has made a new life for himself as a professional in Thailand. He is living his dreams abroad. As he looks ahead to further relocation, this time internal rather than external, we caught up with one of our most personable members. We wanted to know the latest Diego-related developments of fall 2021. How is teaching abroad in Thailand and what’s happening?

You’re taking a new mandatory teaching course. What is it called?”

It is a Diploma in Teaching (a post-baccalaureate degree) for a non-education graduate who wishes to become a professional teacher and pursue a career in teaching. This diploma is required by the TCT (Teachers Council of Thailand), which is responsible for setting professional standards; issuing and withdrawal of licenses; overseeing maintenance of professional standards and ethics; and development of the profession of teachers and educational administrators.

There are various institutes scattered throughout Thailand and abroad that offer the full package of courses required to obtain this diploma. However, it is necessary to be careful and choose among only those institutes accredited by the TCT. This is so you don’t waste time or money when trying to become a professional in Thailand.

Why are you having to take this course to become a teaching professional in Thailand?”

Let’s say no one forces you to do it. It would not be necessary for example for those foreign teachers who intend to work in Thailand for a maximum of four or five years. On the contrary, those who intend to pursue a long career in teaching in Thailand will have to possess it.

When a foreigner decides to start a career in Thailand as a teacher, a temporary teaching permit is what that school will apply for, on a teacher’s behalf, as soon as they begin working there. It’s a waiver for the requirements of the standard teaching license. It is granted for two years and allows the school time to get the teacher to meet the requirements of the TCT to obtain a permanent teaching license from them.

The temporary teaching permit can be renewed a maximum of three times (a total of six years). After that, the school will not be able to grant the job position, unless you meet the requirements for a permanent teaching license. This is why I am studying for this diploma now. I have already completed my first five years as a teacher.

Diego as a professional in Thailand.

When will you finish the diploma?”

Let’s start by saying that all the courses are online. They offer synchronous courses (courses that have additional interactive lessons with the teacher) and asynchronous courses (courses that offer only theoretical modules necessary to pass the related exams).

There are two semesters that make up the entire academic year. The first semester started in August and will end towards the end of December. Then the second semester should start in January and end between April and May.

Diego as a professional in Thailand.

What qualification will you end up with?”

The official qualification released will be a “Diploma in Teacher Education (DTE) 30 Units BSEd based” where “BSEd” stands for Bachelor of Education.

How easy is it to renew your passport in Thailand?”

I thought living abroad would make everything more complicated, including renewing a passport. I will have to change my mind since so far it seems that everything is going smoothly. In fact, my passport is about to expire. About a week ago, I went to the Italian consulate in the province where I live (Phuket). I made an appointment with the consul before going, of course. I brought with me what the consul requested, which is two passport-sized photos (5×5), a copy of the passport, and 4,800 baht (which correspond more or less to 130 Euros). Finally, I was issued a temporary receipt and I should receive the new passport within 20 days maximum.

What changes are you finding in teaching in Thailand this academic year?”

This can be labeled as one of the most debated issues over the past two years. Teachers, like other categories of workers, have been forced to change the entire teaching plan. Teaching methodologies have had to adapt to online teaching. The most pressing question remains: how to hide the obvious inconsistency of an online lesson compared to a face-to-face one? The student’s entire learning mechanism is feeble and dissimilar. Online participation drops dramatically, as does attention and attendance at the lessons themselves. Not to mention the assessments, which do not provide the real performance and level of the student at all, as they are mostly copying answers from the internet.

Fortunately, there seems to be some good news on the horizon. In fact, in November we returned to regular face-to-face teaching, after almost four months of ineffective online teaching. As a teaching professional in Thailand, I really cannot wait.

Diego learning to be a professional in Thailand.

How challenging is it for you to reestablish classroom relationships with students?”

I must be sincere. Perhaps it is due to my extroverted and patient personality and/or my diplomatic disposition in trying to make everyone feel good and happy. I am able to build a relationship of cordiality and serenity starting on the first day. Students are relaxed during my lessons and I always allow time for some funny jokes or recreational activities. Everything needs its time and slowly everything is being restored according to the inevitable adjustments and reorganization.

Diego and his M3 students

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. How did you meet your fiance?”

Back in September 2017, I came to the island of Phuket with my father. It was the beginning of an adventure full of many dreams and expectations. After a few months, I started using Facebook. I joined a group where you could share information and ask for advice or support. Among the various posts, I noticed a girl who was looking for a teacher or, in any case, an expert able to provide some private English lessons. Interested in the idea of ​​being able to start earning something, I offered myself available at a cost of 300 baht per hour. Unfortunately, the girl told me that she had already found someone and it all seemed to end there.

But something moved me to ask her another question and from there we started a long conversation that ended with our first date at the Starbucks where she once worked.

Diego and his wife posing together in front of a traditional umbrella.

How We Met

That morning I was particularly tense. I had no idea what it was like to relate to a girl from a culture so distant from mine. I was afraid she might feel some form of embarrassment. In reality, it was a splendid morning, and her old colleagues even offered us breakfast, sensing that something was rising in the air.

Meeting after meeting, we came to realize that we were meant for each other. It was a very slow path but full of good outcomes. Her name is Jang and today we live happily together with my father in a small villa, in a residential area full of parks and tranquility.

Well, yes, a few months ago I started yearning for the idea of ​​being able to fulfill a desire that, since I was young, I believed to be impossible to achieve. The kind of personality I have has always generally made me focus more on friendship rather than love. But as they say, everything is possible in life and apparently in a little over a year it will also be my moment… 🙂 

Diego and his wife in front of the ocean.

Where is your final destination after the wedding?”

Regarding the wedding, we will first obtain the certificate from the town hall. Later we will return to Italy for a month and a half during which I will introduce my wife to all my family and the beautiful territory where I was born. Once back in Thailand, we will prepare all our stuff and get ready to leave the beloved island of Phuket (our homeland for more than four years). We’re moving to the province of Sakon Nakhon on the northeastern border of Thailand (the birthplace of my future wife). It will be a long journey of about 22 hours that we will complete in about two days with (surely) two super-loaded cars. Finally, once we have reached Sakon Nakhon, we will also follow the Buddhist ceremony to celebrate our wedding.

What are your future plans once you’ve tied the knot?”

Our future plans are surrounded by a series of great changes and evolutions that await us. Once we get to Sakon Nakhon, we will renovate Jang’s mother’s house and we will use the remaining land to build the foundations of our new home. In the long term, this will also save us a lot of money that is currently being paid for our rental in Phuket.

The first few months will be a bit tough because I will have to find a new school from which to start teaching again. I will most likely be starting on a lower salary than what I had achieved in Phuket. But this doesn’t discourage me. On the contrary, it fills me with adrenaline and enthusiasm. I can’t wait to start this new adventure! 

I’ll keep you posted with further updates in my next article, stay tuned. 🙂

Clearly these are exciting times for Diego. We are ecstatic to hear about his forthcoming nuptials. Diego and Jang look like such a happy couple. We wish them well in their new home.

by Dreams Abroad

Memories of Studying Abroad in Greece

Maritza while studying abroad in GreeceThe memories I have from studying abroad in Greece are ones that I love to think back to every now and then. Studying in Greece symbolized my first trip to Europe, and an immense transformation I saw in myself both personally and professionally. Like many, I was bit by the travel bug as soon as I came back from studying in Greece, and today, I honor that as a travel writer and as an avid traveler. Here are some of my memories from studying in Greece. 

Being Away From Family for the First Time

Coming from a first-generation household, where my siblings and I were the first generations in our family to be born outside of Mexico, the concept of studying abroad was a strange one for my parents. But then again, many concepts in the U.S. were strange to my parents. Being the eldest daughter, I had to often maneuver these cultural shifts. I often bounced from one culture to the other. I had to make sense of the American way of life for myself and learn how to explain it to my parents in a way they would understand. Figuring out how to create harmony between these two identities was a challenge I was very familiar with. 

When I told my parents that I wanted to study abroad, they were shocked, scared, and worried. They didn’t want to take that leap with me out of fear. Thankfully after some time, they decided to support me. I don’t know where they grabbed the reassurance that I would be ok, or how they managed their fears over letting me go. However, with their blessing, I was on my way to Greece. While I was studying abroad in Greece, I spoke with them as much as I could through Facetime and text messages.

Discovering Independence While Studying Abroad in Greece

In many ways, I look at this Greek program and think how much it not only helped me grow more independent and sure of myself, but how much it helped my parents in trusting in me, the world, and in themselves to be ok to let their kids do things they never did. I appreciate them not passing down their fears to me. They slowly let go of a protective grip they had always had to keep us safe in the only way they knew how to. Studying abroad in Greece was monumental for me as much as it was for them. 

Maritza looking over a valley while studying abroad in Greece.

My First European City

They say that the European lifestyle is one that is favored by many for its laid-back approach to life. There’s the mix of tranquility and liveliness, quality of life overall, and so much more. Greece was the first-ever European destination that I visited. It left me absolutely enamored. It was around 6 pm when I arrived in Athens to study for the next three months. I took my first steps in the cute and picturesque neighborhood of Plaka where our hotel was. I was met with a sample of the charming aspects of European city life. People of all ages — locals and tourists — walked around leisurely, looking for a dinner spot or sightseeing on an unusually warm March evening. 

Athens, the first city Maritza visited while studying abroad in Greece

Crowds of teenagers hung out at ice-cream shops, waiters outside of the restaurant talking to people about their menu. Police patrolled around making sure everything was ok. Coming from a suburb town in Illinois where everyone drove everywhere, where we all lived in our own little world, and where we were all always busy with something, this was a sight I had never really encountered. People leisurely took their sweet time hanging with friends, enjoying a good meal outside next to a Greek ruin or temple. Super casual, and wonderful at the same time. I knew I would like it here right then and there. 

The Greek Language 

As a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish, I wasn’t sure how I would pick up the Greek language. Would the language be too difficult? Would my knowledge of Spanish and English help me in any way with Greek? 

I learned quickly that Greek was not part of the romance languages. Therefore, making sense of Greek with my Spanish-speaking abilities was simply not going to cut it. However, where my Spanish did come in handy was in my pronunciation of Greek words. I may not know how to order a Freddo, but I could at least hear someone say it and, then, pronounce it in a way where Greek people could understand what I was trying to say. 

Once I remember being in a taxi with three of my classmates when we were trying to get to the Acropolis. The taxi driver couldn’t understand when my classmates said “Acropolis” to the driver, but I had remembered the way it was written and pronounced, so I tried using my Spanish pronunciation on the Greek word “Acropoli” — and it worked! He understood and he replied with “efcharistó” — thank you. It was a small but amazing accomplishment that I will never forget. I had made contact with a local! 

Greek Food

The Greek people don’t like spicy food, but I do. For the first time in my life, I was without any kind of salsa or peppers in my food. This was one of my own personal culture shocks. As a Mexican-American, I was shocked and missing a bit of that spiciness in my food. But as a previous culinary arts student, I was super interested in the ingredients and the typical meals that Greeks enjoyed. Everything from gyros to spanakopita, to authentic Feta, which I never liked before until going to Greece, as well as souvlaki and moussaka. 

Some food Maritza ate while studying abroad in Greece

Studying in Greece gave me the opportunity to try new flavors. I experienced an authentic Greek Easter with the spit-roasted lamb, delectable and fresh Greek salad, flatbread with amazing quality olive oil, and observed and engaged with the culture through its food. When I came back home, I experienced reverse culture shock. I sought out the quality olive oil, the gyros, and the tzatziki sauce. Oh, how the tables had changed. 

The People 

My study abroad experience in Greece allowed me to meet people from countries that I had never met before. Do you remember the first time you met a Spaniard? A Greek? Or an Australian? 

What about meeting someone from your own country, who even though you shared a similar language and background, seemed like they were more “worldly” and “cultured” because they were travelers? A conversation with them left you in awe and utterly inspired. Studying abroad in Greece expanded my knowledge of people. It taught me that even though we may come from different places in the world, we all have more than we think in common. A conversation with people outside of your culture will show you that. If anything, you can always share your love for travel and meeting new people. That is always something to bond over. 

The Traditions 

I felt a sense of comfort in Greece, that to be quite honest, I was not expecting. I guess moving to Greece to me felt like taking a giant leap into the unknown. What would the people be like? What would the culture and traditions be like? Would I like the food? Though I consider myself to be quite an adaptable person, ready to accept any kind of culture shock that I would potentially experience, I realized that it was pleasantly easy to adjust to Greek customs and traditions. 

It reminded me a lot of my Mexican upbringing, such as the way the Greeks that passed near a church would make the sign of the cross, or how religion and church-going was a significant part of life and culture for many Greeks. The massive emphasis on family and looking after the giagiá and the pappoús and the ritual and love for food were comforting. I felt at times like I was in Mexico visiting my own family. It was almost as if I was visiting a village in Mexico when I was really in Greece. The feeling was special and comforting. I realized that it led to me questioning what home is if you can find that feeling outside of the place you were born in. It was one of the many questions that had never occurred to me until living and studying abroad in Greece. 

The Beginning of My Desire to Explore More 

I am forever grateful for the structure of this study abroad program I did in Greece. We didn’t have a university campus where we took all our classes. In fact, our time in Greece was divided up into three different subtopics of study. Depending on that subtopic of study, we would physically travel to the part of Greece with the most physical history and study it in person. 

So I studied the ruins and the Greek god Apollo on the island of Delos while walking around archeological sites. We sat on rocks on the sacred site of Delphi to take notes and learn about this mystical oracle that many people traveled from near and far to ask questions. I presented a project on the important documents stored inside Hadrian’s Library, and the importance of this landmark to my classmates, while standing in front of the ruins of Hadrian’s Library. 

On the Move

Because of the constant traveling, we did throughout Greece, from its northernmost tip in Thessaloniki to the southernmost island of Crete, and everywhere in between, my studies in Greece felt like a hybrid between a fun gap year of staying in hostels and doing school assignments throughout our journeys. For three months, it was hostels, hotels, trains, ferries, buses, and metros.

It was incredible and gave me a strong sense of adventure, learning, adapting, and adjusting to what the day held. Each day was different, and each day we learned something new. One cannot possibly deny the sheer excitement in that. It made me feel excited for the moment, and for life. I was hooked. I wanted nothing less than a life of adventure. The bar had been set high for what I wanted to do after this opportunity, and so my thoughts started to brainstorm just how. 

The Transformation 

Study abroad programs, whether they’re year-long programs or just a few weeks, for many, are the first opportunities to travel for many young American college students. I know it was for me. The combination of youthful excitement, combined with a desire to learn and travel — it’s the perfect recipe for major transformation.

Travel transforms people from the inside out. From the people you meet, to the new foods you try that end up being what you crave when you get back home, to the observing of and participation in a new culture, and the physical distance and feelings of being in a place so far from home where virtually no one knows you. It’s liberating. It’s euphoric, and it’s unlike any other feeling. You see yourself maneuvering a new culture, becoming more social, taking more risks, and saying yes more often. You learn A LOT along the way. Finally, you see yourself grow, and you learn more about yourself than ever before as you go through a myriad of different situations, emotions, and adventures. 

Travel is a confidence booster and a transformation. You don’t return home the same. My Greece study abroad program inspired me to start writing, and eventually start my own travel blog. It cleared a career path like nothing ever had. My memories of studying abroad in Greece are a constant reminder of why I do what I do.

by Maritza Chavez

How I Became a Language Assistant in Japan

In my youth, I had never manifested any interest in Japanese culture. My knowledge was limited to the stereotypical images of ninjas, samurai, and geishas shown in films. My only “real-world” experiences came from my love of eating out at sushi restaurants in my hometown, Toronto. No one close to me would have predicted that I would spend three years of my life as a language assistant in Japan.

I heard about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme from a student of mine while I was teaching ESL at a language school in Toronto. I hesitated in applying at first. In my first 25 years of life, I had barely traveled and never lived abroad. How would I fare living on my own in a foreign country? Would loneliness consume me and leave me feeling unhappy and unsatisfied? Would I be overwhelmed by not being able to read or fully understand my new surroundings? Should I just buckle down, find a nine to five job, and dive headfirst into the societal definition of adulthood? All of these questions fluttered around in my mind before I decided to apply to become a language assistant in Japan.  

The Decision to Become a Language Assistant in Japan

In the end, three factors propelled me towards my decision. First, a friend of mine spoke highly of his experience as a JET 10 years before. Second, my sister gave me some advice on what she considered failure to be. She said that failure wasn’t having to return from Japan because of unhappiness or dissatisfaction, but instead, that failure would be not trying. In other words, I had to give it a shot no matter what the outcome. Lastly, I had just finished my master’s, and I wasn’t feeling motivated in my first post-university job. So, what did I have to lose? Nothing. If anything, the job would give me the opportunity to live and travel the world, which excited me. So, I decided to try my luck and apply for a position in the programme. 

The Application Process

The key eligibility requirements for JET programme candidates are: they must be a native English speaker; demonstrate an interest in Japanese culture, society, and the educational system; hold a bachelor’s degree; and be a citizen of the English-speaking country where recruitment takes place. The application process took around six to eight months and involved three main steps.  

First, I submitted a paper application. This included my personal details, what region I wanted to be placed in, and a short essay on why I wanted to be a JET.  After they reviewed my application,  they called me in for an in-person interview. Here, they asked me why I wanted to teach in Japan, gauged my ability to deal with potential culture shock, and asked me to give an impromptu lesson on the topic of body parts (I performed my best rendition of “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes”). 

I left the interview feeling a bit iffy. Why? I had mentioned that in the future, I wanted to complete my PhD in History, and one of the interviewers said, “You’d be great teaching adults.”  I automatically thought that they didn’t think I had what it took to teach small children or teenagers (turns out, I was wrong). 

As a final step, all the chosen candidates submit a medical and criminal record check. The latter, in Canada, takes about four to six weeks. Success! I managed to make it through the whole process. 

Pre-Departure Preparation

Before I departed, the Consulate-General of Japan in Toronto offered free Japanese language classes to all candidates (on a first-come, first-serve basis). I got a spot in the class, and I was on my way to learning basic Japanese expressions and how to ask basic questions (unfortunately, I did not have time to attain a level where I could understand the answers to these questions, but, you know… baby steps). The best part of these classes were the connections I made. I forged some wonderful and long-lasting friendships with some fellow Torontonians. While only one of the people I met ended up being placed in the same town as me, I was able to visit the others all around Japan during the three years I lived and worked there.

Furthermore, I attended a mandatory pre-departure orientation in Toronto. Here, the instructors gave a basic introduction to the JET programme. They explained the basic duties of a language assistant and gave important pre-departure information (i.e., if you needed to ship personal belongings, bring prescription medication, etc.). Also, they held various seminars led by former JETs on how to adapt to life in Japan. 

Without a Second Thought

What I remember most about the orientation was everything I should bring from home. I needed to bring a small gift for all of the teachers at my main school (it’s customary in Japan) and a bigger gift for the Principal, Vice Principal, my Supervisor, and even my landlord.

Also, there were things that  I wouldn’t have even given a second thought to — from deodorant (the Japanese equivalent just doesn’t cut it), to makeup (not all skin tones available), to curly hair products and shampoo, to toothpaste (no fluoride in Japanese brands), and even tampons (apparently hard to find if you live in the inaka aka rural Japan). What I know now is that you can find almost anything if you look hard enough. It’s probably even easier now with the existence of Amazon Prime.


Before I boarded my direct flight (paid for by the JET programme) from Toronto to Tokyo, I was scared. The moment had arrived; I was actually going to be a language assistant in Japan. At the airport, my father hugged me goodbye, looked at me, and said, “If you’re not happy, call me, and I’ll buy you a ticket home.”  The support he gave me at that moment helped get me, fear in tow, through customs at Pearson International airport.

A three-day orientation session was offered to all incoming JETs in Tokyo. We were put up in a decent Tokyo hotel, breakfast and lunch included. They bombarded us with information sessions (the jetlag made it a bit harder to process). They further explained our roles as language assistants, describing the effects of culture shock, and even gave us teaching tips from former JETs. 

A statue of three monkeys mimicking the hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil phrase in Japan.

I met who would be my supervisor for the next three years and the other teachers (from all over the world) who were placed in my host city. To tell you the truth, what I got most out of my three days in Tokyo was the opportunity to explore (and party in!) the city with the friends that I made both in Toronto and in the very hotel I was staying at. At the end of three days, I boarded a minibus headed to Gunma Prefecture: my home for the next three years.

The First Big Step on My Road to Travel

I often think about what my life would have been like had I not left Canada for Japan almost 14 years ago. I know that the JET programme changed my life. It started what would be my life “on the road,” my life as an expat, my wanderlust. The process of going to Japan was long, and the decision to leave Canada wasn’t easy. In the end, with all the knowledge and experience I have gained, it was worth it. Flying abroad to be a language assistant in Japan undoubtedly changed my life.

by Maria Perez

How to Spend a Day in Fort Worth

Woah, Nelly! You’re in for a wild ride if you’re only in Fort Worth for a day.Fort Worth often gets overshadowed by the “Big D” aka Dallas, but in my humble opinion, Fort Worth holds its own as a notable destination. With its storied past converging with the new in a tasteful way, it can’t help but stand out. I have jotted down some logistical insights and tried to keep suggestions to the “most” significant for you to cherry-pick adventures. I have also provided a mock itinerary should you just want to be along for the ride.

Getting to Fort Worth

If flying, DFW or DAL are the most common airports. From either location, a car can get you to Fort Worth within 40 minutes. DFW also has a light rail (TEXRail) that will give you a direct shot to Downtown Fort Worth’s Central Station. If driving from out of town, I-30 and I-35 are the main highways that lead into the city. 


With limited time, you’ll pay a premium to be in the action. I highly recommend staying in The Stockyards with options varied based on service levels and price point. The five hotels within walking distance of each other are Hotel Drover, Autograph Collection by Marriott, Springhill Suites by Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott, Hyatt Place, and The Stockyards Hotel.


Lunch and Dinner

  • 97 West Kitchen & Bar — If looking to dine Friday evening through Sunday brunch, advanced reservations of three-four weeks are encouraged to catch a preferred seating time. The menu is delicious, and you certainly can’t go wrong with the Catch of the Day Ceviche, Little Gem Wedge Salad, and Bone-in Ribeye Steak. 
  • Provender Hall — This charming two-story loft space is located in a repurposed Mule Barn where rehabbed wood and brick lend to its charm. The food suits the vibe and the Skillet Cornbread and Steak Frites are must-tries. 
  • Àtico — A rooftop restaurant with great views of Downtown Fort Worth. The flatbreads are tasty, but simply enjoying a beverage around sunset would be my recommendation. 
  • Joe T. Garcia’s — In existence since 1935, the iconic restaurant consistently has two-hour waits for dinner service and a line around the block. Despite that, it’s worth the wait if you have time. The décor, service, food, and margaritas all lend themselves to a remarkable experience. 


  • Biscuit Bar — A local family-owned franchise with five locations throughout DFW. The menu is varied, delicious, and affordable. The Boss, Fully Loaded Tots, and El Jefe have been fan favorites amongst my social circles, but you really can’t go wrong with anything from the menu. 
  • Esperanza’s Restaurant & Bakery — Named after Mr. and Mrs. Joe T. Garcia’s daughter, Esperanza (Hope), this family restaurant serves traditional Mexican food. Luckily, breakfast is served all day so take a little morning stroll to enjoy. 

Activities in Fort Worth

  • Running, cycling, or horseback riding along the Chisholm Trail and Trinity River while overlooking the Fort Worth Skyline.

Mock Itinerary 

Get in the night before and check into your preferred Stockyards hotel. 

If budget permits, Hotel Drover is recommended for the best overall experience with all senses indulged. The thoughtfully curated art, intricate design features, relaxing backyard, and true Southern hospitality will leave you wanting to return immediately. If more budget-sensitive, Hyatt Place is next door and still located in the heart of The Stockyards.

Rise ‘n shine!

Walk to Biscuit Bar for a patio breakfast on Mule Alley and enjoy a quiet stroll before it livens up for the twice-daily cattle drive (11:30 AM and 4 PM). 

Morning and early afternoon adventures!

Take a horseback ride for 30 minutes or an hour at 10:30 AM down the Chisholm Trail, along the Trinity River, and overlooking the Fort Worth skyline.

  • Upon return, explore Stockyard Stations, Mule Alley, and the museums within the area before and after lunch.
  • For lunch, I would request seating upstairs at Provender Hall. It’ll be a nice respite from the crowds and noise within The Stockyards.

If horseback riding isn’t your thing and/or you want to go on a longer adventure, rent an electric bicycle East of Hyatt Place on East Exchange Avenue or go for a run along the Trinity River Trails.

  • I suggest heading towards downtown, pit stopping at Panther Island Brewing if you’re craving a craft beer, and continuing onward to the Kimbell Art Museum. On your way back, drop by The Foundry District for artistic vibes and get back to The Stockyards area for a bite to eat at Joe T. Garcia’s. 

Line up at 3:45 PM for the 4 PM Cattle Drive down East Exchange Avenue. 

Insider secret, go to the west end of East Exchange Avenue and stand in the middle of the street right outside the cones. This will give you a head-on view as the cattle come your way. 

After the Cattle Drive, head to the hotel to freshen up for nighttime festivities!

If venturing through The Stockyards on a Friday or Saturday, an early dinner is suggested so that you can make the Rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum by 7:30 PM.

  • 97 West Kitchen & Bar dinner reservations for 5 PM are recommended since it would allow for ample time to enjoy your meal, take in The Backyard post-meal, and stroll leisurely to Cowtown Coliseum. 

After the rodeo, venture to Billy Bob’s for two-stepping and live concerts. Be sure to check the show schedule and purchase tickets in advance.

Finally, head home and reflect fondly on your day.

You’ll soon be reminiscing about your next trip to Fort Worth, Texas!

Google map screenshot of Fort Worth

I also wanted to provide a map for those that prefer visuals, like myself, for ease in referencing key areas within The Stockyards noted above.

I hope this helps with planning and I hope you tag #DreamsAbroad on your trip so we can share in your adventures! 

by Morgan Yearout

From Calvert to Haifa via Hillel

Alana posing on a pedestrian bridge while hiking in Israel on her Hillel trip.It’s hard to know where to begin this story exactly. So, I’ll start at the very, very beginning. I grew up in rural Calvert County, Maryland. For those of you who don’t know, this is church country. It’s an area that has a plethora of churches dotted along Maryland Route 4. It’s ready to cater to whatever flavor of Christianity you savor.

Calvert County is also home to exactly one mosque. The construction of which was, believe it or not, paid for by Saddam Hussein. You have to love local history. It keeps a place interesting, even a place as uninteresting as Calvert (I’m allowed to say that, as I spent the first 20ish years of my life there). Now, outside of our many churches and our one very interestingly storied mosque, I am aware of no other religious centers in Calvert. There is no synagogue. I can count on one hand the number of Jewish classmates I had from elementary school through high school. 

Making Moves

All of this being the case, you can probably imagine what a culture shock it was for me when I moved to and attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore Country (UMBC). Baltimore boasts a comparatively large Jewish population, and pockets of Jewish communities surround it on its outskirts. I mean, I was raised Jewish. I have Jewish family members (obviously), and I did attend a Hebrew school twice a week until my bat mitzvah (though that Hebrew school was not nearby). However, I had never before been in a place where I couldn’t count all the Jews around me on one hand. I had never been so confronted with the incredible diversity of what being Jewish entails prior to college. 

Alana posing on the Hof HaCarmel Beach in Israel while on her Hillel trip.

Discovering Hillel

So, naturally, that just made me want to get involved in the whole shabang! This meant going to events put on by UMBC Hillel, the UMBC branch of an international non-profit organization known as Hillel. Hillel helps to facilitate pluralistic Jewish life on college campuses across the world. Joining these events and getting involved in my Jewish community naturally led me to intern with this organization, become the president, and even work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore. 

While doing all of this, I obviously became not only more immersed in my community, but also in my own history. For instance, did you know the first documented Jew in Maryland lived in Calvert County in the 1600s? I love it when things come full circle. Also, I’m not related to them. My family came from Baltimore on my mom’s side and Allentown, PA, on my dad’s. My Jewish lineage has not been sitting in Calvert County since the 1600s. I just wanted to make that clear.

Alana sitting in the sun at Makhtesh Ramon, Israel

Learning More About My Culture Through Hillel

This also, inevitably, led to me learning about programs that take Jewish students and adults abroad to Israel. Notably, there are also some programs for the gentiles interested in living in the holy land. Some examples of this are MASA, Birthright, and WUJS. MASA is technically the umbrella organization for all of these programs, including Birthright and WUJS (both of which I did), but they also run programs like the Masa Teaching Fellowship.

A peacock at the Haifa Zoo

Birthright, also referred to as Taglit (meaning discovery), is a 10-day experience in Israel where you travel across this beautiful New Jersey-sized country. During this trip, you get a chance to see Jerusalem, swim in the Dead Sea, and climb Masada. Tip: don’t take the snake trail going down if you are clumsy like me! I almost fell off. Also on the trip, I got to sleep in a Bedouin tent, and do a bunch of other things. It was my first experience in Israel. 

Going to Israel

Now, I went on my Birthright trip through UMBC Hillel. Typically, Birthright trips are most easily accessible through colleges and college-affiliated organizations such as Hillel. However, you don’t have to be in college or be part of these organizations to go on Birthright. You do have to be Jewish — and you have to be able to prove it. Typically, you have to be under 30. However, there are many different types of Birthright experiences, and it’s accessible to Jews worldwide. The main thing is if you aren’t going through your Jewish/college community organizations, do your research and make sure to pick the best one for you. I chose to go through my school and my Hillel. I went with people I knew and trusted, which worked best for me. 

Alana and a friend in downtown Haifa, which Alana visited during her Hillel trip.

Figuring Things Out

Alright, so I went on Birthright when I was a college sophomore. Fast forward to 2018, I had recently graduated from UMBC. I still worked at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore and I had picked up two more jobs. In addition, I also acted as a basic Hebrew and Jewish education teacher at a synagogue in DC on Sundays. I taught a charming group of 2nd graders who didn’t want to be there. On top of that, I worked at a call center for a now-defunct book company in Columbia, Maryland. 

Alana in Haifa through her Hillel trip to Israel

Suffice to say, I was in my car a lot. I was putting away money and constantly on the move. If I didn’t want to drive an hour to get back to my bed at my parent’s house after work, I crashed on friends’ couches. I had been thinking about doing a master’s program in literature, so I took a Latin course at a community college in Annapolis, Maryland, as a refresher. I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. What did the next stage of my existence look like?

A Desire to Explore

Well, I started getting a few job offers working with different Jewish non-profits around this time. I enjoy non-profit and cultural work, but I had doubts. I didn’t feel sure if I wanted to only work in the Jewish community for the rest of my professional existence. Ultimately, I felt afraid of pigeon-holing myself there… so I decided to go abroad! Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Alana, if you didn’t want to get stuck only working in Jewish community-related jobs, why would you go to Israel?” That’s a great question! The simple answer is that I wanted to get abroad as fast as possible. I had not had the opportunity to do so during college, and it was something I had been itching to do for a long time. 

Alana posing in Tel Aviv

As a Jewish person, applying to a program to work and live in Israel for a period of time was one of the simplest and easiest options. I had wanted to go back and see more of Israel since I went on Birthright. It was less about what I’d be doing and where I’d be going and more about having the chance to see more of the world than I was regularly confronted with. Also, you never truly know a place until you’ve lived in it. 

Participating in the WUJS Program 

I applied to the WUJS program, a five-month program in Israel where you can either live in Tel Aviv or Haifa and you get help being placed with your ideal internship. On top of this, you are also given living accommodations, a special MASA visa to work and live under the program, Hebrew courses, a set amount of money towards travel and food during your workweek, and weekend trips to different parts of Israel. Now, this program isn’t free; you do have to pay for it and/or apply for a grant to help cover it. So I applied for the program and the grant and got both. I still had to cover part of this program out of pocket, but, thankfully, the grant covered the majority of my program-related expenses, or I wouldn’t have been able to do it. 

While I had visited Tel Aviv before, the cost of living there through the program was more expensive than living in Haifa. Haifa was also new territory for me. So, for both of those reasons, I chose to go to Haifa. And, to this day, I have no regret in making that decision. I made a beautiful little community for myself whilst there, including a mix of locals, people from my program, and others who had chosen to make their home (at least temporarily) in Haifa for various reasons. I’m still in touch with many of these people to this day, though we do not all live in Haifa anymore.  

Adventure Awaits in Haifa, Israel

I can’t wait to share even more about my experiences in Haifa, Israel, with you! Look out for my second article, where I will discuss my internship and time in Israel more in-depth. Until then, keep reading!

by Alana Hayes

Part Three of Canada’s West Coast – Vancouver Island

edmond gagnonIn Part Three of my article on Canada’s West Coast, my wife and I explore a small part of Vancouver Island, from Nanaimo to Victoria, along the island’s southeast coast. From the mainland, you can catch ferries from north or south Vancouver to take you to Nanaimo or Swartz Bay. Another ferry crosses further north.

Coming from the Sunshine Coast, we took the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver and then another one to Nanaimo. The second ferry ride was about an hour and forty minutes. If you are trying to make connections like this, be sure to check out ferry schedules at BC Ferries. You can also fly if you don’t have a car and want to save time. 

Nanaimo: Home of the Famous Dessert 

The waterfront City of Nanaimo is scenic and easy to navigate, with less than one hundred thousand people. This was my second visit to the city. Sadly, we did not spend too much time there on either occasion. Cathryn and I had two reasons to visit Nanaimo on this trip. First, to visit some good friends who live there, and second, to drive along the coast to Victoria.

Any sweet tooth will be happy in this city. It’s home to the world-famous Nanaimo bar, made in several flavors and sold everywhere. We spent most of our visit on the scenic waterfront and on Protection Island, a 10-minute ferry ride from the city harbor. Our friends took us to the island for dinner, where we dined at the Dinghy Dock Pub, a cool floating restaurant that offered great views of the Nanaimo harbor.

The food was typical pub grub, but with an emphasis on fresh seafood. Cathryn’s highlight of our mini excursion was getting up close and personal with a giant purple starfish living on the side of a floating dock. The pub was a cool place to sit and watch seaplanes taking off and landing in the harbor. 

Chemainus, A Vancouver Island Secret 

In our experience, the best way to get good advice and recommendations while travelling is from locals. One of our resident friends proved this theory by recommending we stop in the little town of Chemainus on the drive south to Victoria. Being off the inland highway and on the waterfront, we would have driven right on by completely unaware of this cool pit stop.

Like many former logging towns in British Columbia, Chemainus has had to rediscover itself to stay on the map and draw visitors off the bypass. Fifty-three outdoor murals and colorful turn-of-the-century buildings that have been painstakingly restored make this town the perfect place to get out and stretch your legs. There are unique shops to browse, some with antiques far cheaper than those in bigger cities. And there are places to grab a beer, lunch, ice cream, or even a Nanaimo bar.

Victoria, A Highlight of Vancouver Island

Some think it’s Vancouver, but the City of Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. We spent five days exploring this beautiful waterfront city, barely enough time to see and do it all. From the time we pulled into the driveway at our waterfront Airbnb, we knew we were in for a treat. Our unit was the lower level of a ranch-style home. We had an awesome view of the tree-lined park and walking trail that parallels the river gorge across the street. 

All we had to do was follow Gorge Road to get downtown and to the harbor front. The Victorian and century-old buildings capture your eye, with the giant Fairmont Hotel stealing the show, overlooking the main harbor. And just when you’ve focused on that, the historic dome-topped government building nearby screams for attention. Be sure to check it out at night when it’s all lit up. For a great dinner, try Finn’s Seafood, an upscale restaurant with a great deck.

While driving around to get a feel for the city, we discovered great little neighborhoods with pop-up markets. A section of Government Street, downtown, is a pedestrian mall where you can walk to Chinatown and inner-city market squares. The whole core and waterfront are easily walkable. 

Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley

With a population of a hundred thousand people, Victoria looks bigger than Nanaimo. However, it’s easily walkable with waterfront boardwalks and cool neighborhoods like Chinatown. Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada. It is only second to San Francisco in North America. The neighborhood also boasts the world-famous Don Mee Chinese Restaurant. We ate the highly recommended dim sum brunch there, and it was second to none. 

As in the United States, thousands of Chinese immigrated to western Canada to help build the railroads that would stretch across the country. They also worked in the mines. Three thousand settled in Chinatown by 1911, the largest population of Chinese in Canada for a decade. 

A famous landmark is Fan Tan Alley, a narrow walkway that was once lined by brothels and opium dens. If you like to explore, don’t stop there. I found more cool alleys with hidden shops, cafes, and cute patios belonging to private apartments. There are also Chinese grocery stores and a giant Chinese-inspired arch that marks the main street.

Fisherman’s Wharf

If you don’t have wheels, take public transportation or a water taxi further into the harbor’s mouth to Fisherman’s Wharf. With its colorful houseboats, shops, and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon sipping on a cold beer or grabbing a bite to eat. Add people watching to that list. Cathryn spotted Canada’s New Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh, took a selfie with him, and found out he’s from our hometown in Windsor. 

If you want a different perspective of Fisherman’s Wharf, jump on one of the water taxis and take a tour. They’ll do a loop of Vancouver Island’s picturesque harbor or drop you off anywhere else along the waterfront. The wharf is family-friendly. Gazing at the brilliantly colored houseboats and buildings, I wanted to break out my crayons and a coloring book.

Butchart Gardens

To me, Butchart Gardens is a world-class example of how to recycle planet earth after it’s been ravaged by man and make it even more beautiful. About a half-hour drive (take the scenic route) from downtown, the extensive gardens were created in an old gravel pit, with giant trees and thousands of colorful flowers expertly planted in 55 acres of manicured gardens. There is every type and color of annual, perennial, shrub, and tree imaginable. 

Statuary, garden ornaments, and ponds linked by winding and shaded paths, take you on a magical journey through one of man and mother nature’s finest accomplishments. We thought the admission price was a bit steep at $31 (Can) each but found it worthwhile. You could spend a whole day wandering through the themed gardens, but we found a few hours in hot weather was enough. 

The Scenic Coastline of Vancouver Island

If you have a vehicle, there are other places to explore along the coast. We drove from Fisherman’s Wharf, staying along the water on Dallas Road, which heads east and follows the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Dallas becomes Crescent Road, and then Beach Drive, which turns north and continues along the coast. Views of the Salish Sea and Haro Strait are amazing from the winding and hilly road and scenic overlook. 

In conclusion, Cathryn and I thoroughly enjoyed the small part of Canada’s west coast that we visited. While the City of Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast were fun to explore, we liked Vancouver Island and Victoria the most. If you enjoyed this segment of Canada’s West Coast, be sure to check out Parts One and Two here at Dreams Abroad. You can see more of my travel stories on my personal website

by Edmond Gagnon