Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

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Location: Sagamore Hill National Historic Site; Oyster Bay, New York, USA

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‘Sideways’ – Film Review and Analysis

notdrinkingmerlot
“Miles is not drinking any Merlot!”

Sideways (2004) is an excellent film about the topsy-turvy nature of middle-age life and how to cope with the curveballs that life throws at us to challenge us. Critically acclaimed at the time and nominated for many awards, Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne is a good tale about male friendship, how to deal with mid-life problems, and finding love and purpose during difficult times.

The very title of the film ‘Sideways’ is symbolic of the best way in which wine bottles should be preserved by being laid on its’ side in order to age properly. Also, men and women who are going through their mid-life ‘sideways’ must embrace the challenges that lie ahead and the changes that come to them with this part of life in order to grow and mature as a person.

The basic premise of the film ‘Sideways’ involves two middle-aged men who are close friends, Miles Raymond (played by Paul Giamatti) and Jack Cole (starring Thomas Haden Church) that decide to take a week long Bachelor’s trip up to the wine country of Napa Valley in California to celebrate Jack’s upcoming wedding and the end of his singledom. Both of these men are in their forties and have a sinking feeling that the best of life is behind them.

Miles is in a depressive state due to the fact that he feels like a failed writer due to the uncertain future success of his yet-to-be published book. While he has a steady job as a high school English teacher, he feels unfulfilled by his life and wants to achieve greater success as a novelist but has yet to break through. On top of that, he has gone through a recent divorce that he has yet to recover from fully and is newly single.

Luckily or unluckily for Miles, he has a friend, Jack, who is hoping to have a good time for his last few days as a single man. Jack Cole, Miles’ friend is an actor who may be past his prime. While he used to be a TV soap opera star years ago, now, he is mostly relegated to doing voiceovers for silly commercials and seems to be getting tired of the acting business. Jack loves his fiancé but has the problem of not being able to control him when it comes to women.

Unlike Miles, Jack is not a big wine connoisseur and is more into playing golf and hooking up with a local woman before he takes those fateful steps down the aisle. Jack is hoping to not screw up his marriage but he obviously misses the single life while his friend, Miles dreads being single again. Jack may love his fiancée but he is also hoping to get involved with the real estate business that his soon-to-be father-in-law is running in Los Angeles, which Jack wants to be apart of in order to get away from acting once and for all.

Beyond just writing novels and teaching his students, Miles’s true passion in life is wine, which is why he proposes Jack that they go to Napa Valley to drink some great wine, play some golf, and eat some good food together. While Jack enjoys all of those activities, he has other plans in mind for his last days as a single guy leading to hilarious and disturbing results for the both of them. Before Jack wants to get married, he wants one last fling as a ‘single’ guy before he becomes the husband to his wife. In the meantime, Miles encounters a woman he never expected to meet.

Maya, (played by Virginia Madsen), is a kind and intelligent waitress at a local restaurant in Napa Valley known as ‘The Hitching Post II.’ She is someone who Miles has encountered before during his previous solo trips to Napa Valley. While they were friendly to each other, it’s only on this Bachelor’s trip to the wine country where Miles with the help of Jack’s support gets to know Maya better. Maya and Miles really hit it off with each other especially over their shared love of good wine and they start to develop a relationship.

Luckily for Jack, Maya knows a local wine keeper, Stephanie, (played by Sharon Oh), who has a lot of the characteristics that Jack likes in a woman. The two men end up dating and hooking up with both women but with unforeseen and negative consequences. Jack’s adulterous philandering almost catches up with him and causes Miles a lot of unneeded stress. Miles also suffers during this trip from the lack of hope for his novel in finding a publisher to sell and advertise it.

He also struggles to give up on his ex-wife, Vicki, who he did cheat on leading to their divorce and breakup. The almost breaking point for Miles comes when he finds out that his ex-wife, Vicki, got re-married and has a newborn daughter causing him to regret his divorce from her. While his wife has moved on from him, he still struggles with the fact that his book is going nowhere, he is single in his 40’s, and has no legacy or children at the moment.

Despite all of mid-life struggles that both Miles and Jack go through during the film, they remain loyal and true friends despite the pain and suffering they cause each other. Miles and Jack are almost complete opposites of each other in terms of their personality and character. Miles is serious yet forlorn and an intelligent, well-spoken man while Jack is a cocky womanizer who never really grew out of his teenage years.

However, despite their differences from each other, they do help lift each other out from their problems. Jack gives Miles encouragement to keep working on his novel and to self-publish it if he has to. He wants Miles to succeed at starting a relationship with Maya and really gets him to start going out with her. Miles saves Jack from himself multiple times throughout the film and even though Jack’s integrity is compromised, Miles is there to clean up the damage and makes sure that his friend follows through on his marriage commitment to his fiancée, Stephanie.

Every character in this film is flawed in some way and even though each of them, both men and women, are in their forties, they still have some growing up to do and don’t have everything figured out when it comes to life. Each of these characters has their own personal demons with Miles having depression and a lack of success in his passion and Jack being an adulterer and a compulsive liar.

While they are not perfect men and the women they are involved with make that clear to them, they are still good guys at heart and want to do the right thing. Life has thrown them ‘Sideways’ and they are trying to keep up with all of the curveballs that they must dodge and move forward against. It is really no surprise to me that similar to ‘Lost In Translation’, this film has become a cult classic that can warrant multiple viewings.

While it may not be your typical feel good movie, it’s a ‘real’ film about ‘real’ people who are trying to succeed both personally and professionally against the odds. If you decide to watch ‘Sideways’ for the first time, you’re going to be rooting for each of these characters to find happiness. They are endearing to us as the audience because they make mistakes and have setbacks just like those of us watching the film. In addition to the brilliant acting especially by Virginia Madsen, Paul Giamatti, and Thomas Haden Church, the adapted screenplay is brilliantly written and thought out.

Even though most viewers would consider it a dark, morose film, it also has a lot of comedy in it and some great lines about wine. There are a lot of moments in ‘Sideways’ that will make you sad, happy, angry, and even make you relate to the characters themselves. A great film overall directed by Alexander Payne, Sideways was released way back in 2004 but still remains a popular and heart-warming film that will leave you satisfied. I highly recommend checking ‘Sideways’ out when you get the chance and to remember after watching the whole film to never order a tall glass of Merlot again.

How You Think Affects Everything You Get

1. Your mind is a fertile garden patch. Failure to cultivate it allows weeds to run rampant. 

As the popular saying goes, “Your mind is a terrible thing to waste.” In order to get the most out of your brain, you need to put your mental and intellectual capabilities to the test every single day. Whether it is reading the newspaper, doing a crossword puzzle, or solving a Rubix cube, you must exercise your mind as you do so for your body. If you don’t do anything to stimulate your learning capabilities, it’s likely that you will be left behind in life to some degree. Especially in this day and age where there is an unlimited amount of information to be accessed by the average person, there is simply no excuse as to why someone can’t cultivate their mind to improve themselves and become smarter.

You don’t even need to spend your whole day learning because it’s likely that you’re already a busy person. However, it only takes an hour or two a day of active learning in order to get ahead in life and improve a little bit. For example, you could spend that hour or two each day learning a musical instrument, studying a foreign language, or reading a chapter or two from a new book. The possibilities are seemingly endless but you need to take the initiative in order to make it happen. As an adult, nobody is going to hold your hand and force you to learn new things.

This isn’t like it was in school growing up where you had set periods of learning and a teacher there who could guide you to improve and become more knowledgeable. After high school or even college, you need to take initiative when it comes to learning and empowering your mind to become more open, agile, and responsive for the increased amount of knowledge that you want to retain. You can hold the weeds at bay if you’re willing to plant some flowers there instead.

2. Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to actions and actions lead to results. If         you don’t like the results you’re getting, reexamine your thinking.

You may not be able to control the thoughts or the feelings that enter your head but you need to control how you act and react to them. There is a direct correlation between your thoughts and feelings and your actions that come later. It’s important to think about why you are experiencing these particular thoughts and feelings, and if they are constructive or not to be having in your mind. You need to make sure that the actions that you are willing to undertake as a result of your feelings are done for the right reasons and are not just based off of poor impulses.

Part of being a mature adult is realizing that you have control over your actions and you should weed out the thoughts, emotions that are completely negative in nature and won’t get you very far in your goals and in your results. The effort that you put forth in your actions is a direct result of the effort you put into your thoughts. For example, if you feel confident about the subject material for a biology exam and are thinking about the topics you need to study and master, then you will be more likely to turn those positive thoughts into real actions as you crack open the books to study for this exam and then take the exam the next day with good feelings of confidence from putting efforts behind your original thoughts.

However, if you choose to focus on the negative aspects of your thoughts and emotions, it will likely cause a downward spiral, leading you to make mistakes and achieve less than desired results. With positive thoughts and emotions come the positive efforts of hard work that will often lead to good results. You really need to believe in yourself internally before you can have external success in the world and that all begins with your thought process and how you feel about yourself as a person.

3. Don’t deceive yourself. Confront reality, as it exists, even when the facts are brutal! Once you do, and then take action based on that reality.

Reality can be difficult to cope with but it is absolutely necessary to be able to handle even when the facts are not in your favor. In anything in life, you need to have a sound understanding of the facts and figures before you can start taking action regarding the subject you’re researching.

It is very easy these days to wrap yourself up in falsehoods and misleading information, which is why it’s more important than ever to seek out the reality of things in order to not confuse or distort your understanding of it all. The facts that may make you depressed, angry, or disturbed but the facts are the facts and they won’t be handed to you automatically. Any good student or researcher will know that you have to check and verify the facts on any subject before moving forward with taking any serious actions.

For example, when it comes to the issue of climate change and global warning, the facts matter a lot which is why so many scientists spend years in their field compiling data, doing research, testing out hypotheses, etc. before they decide to take substantive action to reverse this problem or lessen its’ effects. There are a lot of people out there who wish to distort the truth or dismiss it entirely but when you do not have a consensus on an important global issue like climate change, the problem will get worse and not better especially if no action is taken.

Reality must always be confronted even if there are some harsh truths that we as human beings must deal with. Part of being a mature, responsible adult is seeking out the facts in a situation and getting to the truth of the matter regardless if you like what the outcome is or not. Once you have the facts, you’ll be clear to take action and to do the right thing in your mind.

4. Worrying about things you can’t control creates a negative feedback loop that will cause you unneeded stress and anxiety.

Worrying is useless when you think about it. It doesn’t do anyone let alone yourself any good to think about the things that may happen in the future but also may not happen otherwise. You can only really know what’s going to happen exactly for today or maybe for tomorrow but beyond that you can never really be sure about what is going to happen to you.

Worrying can really be a mental block that can prevent you from making progress in your daily goals or from being successful in whatever you set your mind or your body to. By worrying all of the time, you’re not going to be able to do anything useful with your life if you’re worried about something bad is going to happen. By doing that, you’ll create a negative spiral of negative thoughts that you may not be able to get out of so easily.

When you decide to worry about something out of your control, stop yourself right there, take a deep breath, and push those negative thoughts out of your head. Instead, you must think positively and act positively in order to create the change you need and to become a better person in different areas of life. Worrying will get you nowhere and will create an endless loop of negatively. You have to be willing to take some chances, face some risks, and do your best effort in order to get to where you need to be. Worrying is a wasteful endeavor when you could focus your mental energies in a way that is more positive and productive overall.

5. Harnessing your thoughts to drive tangible, positive outcomes – It’s not enough to stare up the steps, you have to step up the stairs.

Thoughts must become actions in order to make things happen. You can think as much as you want about what you’re going to do, but unless you put actions to words, you won’t be able to get anywhere. There’s an important saying when it comes to this subject, which is, “Watch what people do, not what they say.” There’s also another saying such as, “Actions speak louder than words do.”

If people aren’t willing to follow through with their actions, you can be sure that they won’t be able to advance or progress that much with their goals, dreams, or aspirations. The difference between someone who’s a big talker and someone who actually walks the walk is quite stark. Success and progress doesn’t just come out of thin air. You need to be the person who is willing to take action after forming a plan of how to make the outcome positive or successful. This applies to a number of things in life that we often strive to achieve.

Whether it’s being the first person in your family to graduate from college, or working extra hours for that raise, or going back to night school to get the skills you need to apply for that job, positive outcomes must come from actual efforts and hard work. Good things come to people who put actions behind their thoughts. Anybody can talk a good game but the ones who really stand out in life are the ones who go the extra mile to achieve their goals with planning, taking action, and doing their best.

Reaching The Gold Standard

‘The Gold Standard’ is a popular term that is used to describe the best quality and ideal that you can hold yourself to. The term of ‘gold standard’ has often been used to refer to the finance, medical, and other industries where people are trying to get the best outcome and live up to high expectations. The gold standard can also be a benchmark that can be set for yourself or a company that is trying to reach a goal that would be difficult to achieve but is still within the realm of possibility. Often times, when it comes to the gold standard, you’re going to be comparing two different options together and seeing which one falls within a closer range of that needed benchmark. According to Google, the official definition of a gold standard is when something or someone is “the best, the most reliable, or most prestigious kind of thing of its’ type.”

The correlation between something being golden and something being the best has been linked as being one in the same for a couple of decades now. It is often considered to be an analogy to the literal definition of a ‘gold standard’, which is when the value of a currency is defined in terms of its’ overall worth in gold. In this case, there are many different standards with gold being one of them when it comes to the finance world, especially when currencies are being compared to gold in terms of overall value. Since gold was seen as a reliable resource to base value off of, it was held to an increasingly high standard, which other currencies were able to base their own value on and see how much gold they could own on the world market. The gold standard can be defined when it comes to both economics but also in terms of behavior as a scientific factor.

As for the first modern usage of the gold standard, it is believed to have occurred originally in a written paper from 1979, explaining the scientific usage of the word. The paper was titled, “In search of the gold standard for compliance measurement.” In this same academic paper, the gold standard is linked directly to the ideal standard of being compliant. The excerpt from this article states that, “While other methodological problems are involved, these four highlight the absence of a real gold standard for compliance, the ideal standard would be…”

While the gold standard is often held as the ideal for currency exchanges, for medical advances, and for statistical accuracy, it can also be referencing a person’s behavior or conduct especially when it comes to business or personal matters. While the gold standard phrase may have been invented with finances or medicine in mind, the expression has become mainstream over the past couple of decades and is now used quite regularly when it comes to people’s achievements.

For example, if you are an Olympic athlete whose competing in a number of events, you are also being held to a ‘gold standard’ as you compete for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The gold standard here is definitely the ideal standard that is held not just for athletes that are competing in the Olympics for all major sports.

In order to be the best, you need to hold yourself to your highest standards and work you’re hardest to win the gold medal. In our society, even before the phrasing of ‘gold standard’, striving for gold was seen as an endearing quality and that it often symbolically represents the best that you can achieve as an athlete who is competing in a tournament or championship. It seems to be no coincidence either that most of the trophies that you receive for coming in first place or for winning a competition are made out of gold, whether it is real or fake. The gold standard in sports is a concept that has been around for many decades and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Winning gold medals or trophies in competitions is strongly linked to being the best of the best, making it a significant part of the idea of the gold standard.

Beyond signifying personal achievements and athletic success, the idea of holding yourself personally to a gold standard of behavior is quite common in our society. When it comes to having the ideal behavior, you’re going to want to hold yourself accountable for your actions, and you need to have such qualities as being honest, fair, responsible, organized, and hard working.

Many businesses and companies, when they decide whether or not they are going to hire someone as their new employee evaluate if you hold yourself to a high standard of behavior or ethics. They do not want someone who is going to lie, cheat, and steal to make the company and your colleagues look bad. The idea of holding yourself to a gold standard is quite popular in many of today’s companies. Many contracts and work agreements come with behavioral clauses that lay out the do’s and don’ts of what they require of you as an employee when they decide to hire out. If you do not hold yourself to a ‘gold standard’ of behavior at work, you may be out of a job much quicker than you had imagined.

Outside of your work life, setting the gold standard of behavior in your home life is a good habit to practice. As an individual, you need to set the standard for your friends and your family as to how to act and behave as a member of a society. You need to show them that being kind, honest, hard-working, organized, and reliable are good qualities to have both at home and at work and that these are personal characteristics that should be emulated, and spread around as much as possible.

If your children or other family members see you behaving well at the grocery store by saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the workers as well as when you leave a nice tip for the waiter or waitress at a restaurant, you are setting the gold standard for them by acting as a good example of how to behave and act as a regular person. Sometimes, you have to set your own gold standard and to have it be a high one in order for other people to follow similarly. If you are able to follow your own rules and ways of conduct, you will make yourself more of a leader and a person who is to be respected by others.

By having a gold standard whether it is in the field of athletics, statistics, science, economics, finance, etc., there are a lot of benefits to holding yourself or holding others to a very high level of standards. If everyone in society just did the bare minimum, then not much would change or advance. By being responsible, using sound judgment, working hard, and striving to be the best we can be, we become better people and we develop a strong code of conduct. You don’t need to have a gold standard in order to be a good person or a good worker but it certainly helps in setting some key boundaries, rules, and ethics that should be followed in order to get the most out of yourself and out of others.

Those who strive to be the best are rewarded with reaping the benefits of the gold standard in many different fields. If you’re able to hold yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to different ideals, you’ll reach the high standard that is set for yourself. The gold standard is not for everyone because not everyone can reach that highest level of human conduct and action. However, the purpose of the gold standard is for people who have the means and the drive to be the best can do just that if they set their minds and bodies to that illustrious goal.

To put it simply, if there were no gold standard or no standards at all to hold yourself or others to, society would not be as civilized and humans would not have as advanced as much as we have to the present day. While the gold standard is for the best of the best, there are other standards that we accept and implement whether it is an employees’ code of conduct from any regular company or the Constitution of the United States. Regulations, rules, and codes of conduct can be difficult to follow and observe at all times but they are necessary in order to keep society functioning well.

Those people who disregard these norms of behavior are often castigated and are excluded from being the best of the best. If you lie, cheat, or steal, you won’t meet any normal standard let alone the gold standard. The gold standard is aiming for all of us to achieve the best of human nature and to do so in different fields of work and in life. While we may not successfully get to the gold standard in finance, medicine or in athletics, we always have the chance to reach the gold standard in our personal behavior and conduct.

 

 

View From The Top

Tired and thirsty, my friend and I had finally reached the glorious peak at ‘La Piedra’ or ‘El Peñol del Piedra’, which loosely translates in English to ‘The Stone.’ It was quite a physically taxing climb up to the top of the rock as my legs burned and my feet became sore as my friend and I ascended the 750 steps along with some steep hiking up a good-sized hill to get to the base of the ‘La Piedra’ rock.

I came to Guatepe partly after hearing from friends in Medellin on how beautiful and unique it was and after seeing various pictures of the stunning landscapes that make up this tranquil part of Antioquia. I was skeptical of the place and didn’t think that it would live up to the hype but I am happy to say that I was completely wrong. Out of all the places I’ve visited and the landscapes I’ve traversed, Guatepe is a really special place to visit. The area is made up of dozens of intertwining, clear blue lakes surrounded by the greenest forestry you could imagine with soil rich in different colors. My friend compared it to the southern United States and thought that it was similar to the state of North Carolina. To me, that’s part of the beauty of Colombia in that there are so many varied landscapes. You could sometimes wonder whether or not you’re in a different country entirely depending on if you’re in Atlantico or in Antioquia.

The landscapes were beautiful, the air was clean, the people were friendly, and the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ was unbeatable. A 360-degree vista of all of the lakes, hills, and greenery that make up Guatepe was quite breathtaking and peaceful to behold. It helped that my friend and I had great weather to enjoy where the skies were clear blue and the bright sun was shining down on us.

It was really pleasant to take pictures, to soak up the view, and to have a cold drink after the long journey to the top. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but walking up the steep 750 steps is not for everyone and it really is quite the challenge. While it’s not insurmountable, your feet and legs feel the pain and you wonder when the full view is going to come into play. At ‘La Piedra’, they really make the tourists and the visitors to the rock work for it. There are no escalators or elevators. You have to pay for admission and if you don’t make it to the top, you don’t get your money back. Like a lot of things in life, you have to invest yourself physically and mentally in order to reap the benefits.

Similar to many other moments in life, I reflected on those 750 steps of ‘La Piedra’ as being a necessary yet temporary struggle to reach the top and enjoy the view. For me, it wouldn’t have been as worthwhile at all to check out ‘La Piedra’ if there were an escalator or an elevator to shortcut the journey. I believe that I enjoyed the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ much more given the fact that I was tired, hungry, and in need of a rest. The struggle was tough enough for me that as a result, the ultimate reward became more fulfilling. If the climb up had been much easier, it simply would have been less rewarding. Because the views from this rock were magnificent, I was willing to climb the 750 steps to get to the top. Sometimes in life, the struggle is worth the reward.

Whether it’s traveling to a new country, starting a new job, moving to a new place, or working on a blog, there’s going to be some struggles and setbacks involved. Sometimes, you’re going to have to decide whether the sacrifices you make and the challenges you have to overcome are enough to justify the rewards. Nothing in life is as easy as it seems and if it appears that way, you may be let down when the reward or success you’ve seen from it doesn’t feel as good as a result. It’s important to realize that working hard and trying new things can lead to failure but it can also lead to a success that’s more whole and fulfilling.

Putting blood, sweat, and tears, into a project, a job, or a relationship takes a lot of work but you can rest easy knowing that it was your labor, which brought it into fruition. If everything in life is simply handed to you, you may feel happy and experience pleasure from it in the short-term but it’s likely to make you miserable in the long-term. Being able to exert yourself in the world physically or mentally can give you a much more lasting feeling of success and contentment. While I would have been happy with the ‘view from the top’ had there been an elevator for tourists like me to go to the top, I felt much more relieved and excited from the view after step #750 because it was the sweat and the toil to get up there physically that filled me with contentedness and satisfaction.

Before I left Guatepe, I wanted to see more of the area so I rented a kayak in the morning and set out by myself. I untied the canoe, got ahold of the equipment and the oars, and pushed the kayak out into the open waters. The day before, I had viewed Guatepe from the top but now I was back on level ground exerting myself physically stroke by stroke on a two-seater kayak in order to enjoy the scenery, and the peaceful quiet of a Sunday morning.

For anybody who’s done kayaking by themselves before should know, it’s a struggle at first to steer the kayak and to move in sync with the tide. Like the day before, I was challenging myself physically and thus, I felt more rewarded when I was able to glide by the birds chirping, the local residents fishing, and taking in the sheer greenery of Guatepe. I have to say it was a good way to end my weekend trip to that part of Antioquia, which is a truly beautiful and well-preserved area of Colombia.

I hope to get across to my readers that it’s very likely in life that you’ll get the most satisfaction from those challenges you endured and personally overcome. Whether it’s that huge rock in Guatepe you climbed or that successful business you started on your own time and with your own money, these efforts will create sustainable happiness and noticeable self-confidence. It’s not easy to get to the top and that’s why you have to work hard and exert yourself in order to enjoy the view.

 

The Art of Traveling Solo

The famous English author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote in his poem “All that is gold does not glitter” a line that should be noted for its’ truth and its’ profundity. The 2nd line of the poem states, “Not all those who wander are lost.” This is a fitting statement for those of us travelers who have stepped foot in another city or country being completely on our own. It’s not something that can be easily done and requires a bit of mental fortitude to be able to enjoy it despite the inherent challenges.

While most travelers like to go from place to place in packs, big groups, or in guided tours, I believe that it is necessary to try out traveling alone especially if you have prior experience in traveling to other cities and countries. Once you are comfortable with the art of traveling itself, I think it’s a good idea to challenge yourself by traveling alone. I won’t choose to judge you if you decide to never try it by I respect any fellow traveler more when they tell me that they have been by themselves in a new country for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time.

In order to travel alone successfully, I would recommend that a person be able to adapt or inherently have a few traits or characteristics that will put them more at ease with the idea. First, you have to be comfortable being alone. You have to be able to embrace the solitude of your thoughts and to be more observant of the world. This is a hard thing to accomplish for strictly extroverted people who thrive off of the energy of being around others. However, if you’re a strict introvert or fall somewhere in the middle of those two broad categories like myself, then you won’t find traveling solo as hard as pure extroverts. Sometimes, you will have to be alone in a restaurant, in a museum, or in your train/plane/taxi.

I think there’s a benefit to this because then you’re more likely to focus on the place you’re traveling to and be able to better absorb the culture, customs, and especially the food/drinks of the new place you’re traveling to. When you’re with your friends and family on a trip, you’re often wrapped up in what they’re thinking, what you’re going to do with them for the day, if they’re having a good time or not, etc. With friends and family, you’re in a mini-bubble that’s hard to break out of. When you’re traveling with another person or a group in general, you’re less likely to appreciate other aspects of the trip. How can you focus on the sheer beauty of the Coliseum in Rome, Italy when your close friend is trying to discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode with you?

Some critics of traveling solo also forget about the fact that you will still meet people during your travels to new places. You’ll only truly be alone if you never open your mouth and be social. It’s easier now than ever to connect with new people and make new friends due to the wonders of the Internet. Due to the popularity of websites like AirBNB, Couchsurfing, and the ubiquitous amount of hostels in every part of the globe, even if you travel alone for an extended period of time, it’s still easy to meet people due to the sharing economy’s emphasis on affordable, shared living spaces.

I also couldn’t forget the sheer amount of other opportunities to have language exchanges, expat gatherings, and to just make the effort to open your mouth to someone and start a conversation. I find that it’s easier to meet people on the road than it is when I’m at home because they’re curious about where you’re from, how long you have been traveling for, and what you are doing in their country, etc. and you’ll also be curious about the same things.

During my recent trip to Santa Marta, which was done solo, I was able to befriend my kind AirBNB host from Bogota, hang out with the locals at a bar, and practice my beginner Portuguese with a Brazilian woman from Rio de Janeiro. When you’re traveling alone, you really have to put yourself out there and be more social. That’s not easy for a lot of people but it’s important to try it at least once. If you have any kind of social anxiety or shyness, you’ll be able to overcome it more and more due to solo travels.

Traveling alone is something that you have to ease into over time. I think it’s wise to start with a day trip to a nearby city where you don’t know anyone and then eventually work your way up to visiting a new country by yourself for a few days or a week. Personally, the longest that I’ve traveled by myself for has been about two weeks. I’d like to eventually reach that level of a month or more on the road without anyone holding my hand. Traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone and mentally challenges you. You have to navigate a new city and country, practice the language by yourself, and be able to handle flights, trains, and buses without the guidance of others.

While this is not easy and takes practice, you’ll feel more confident and sure of yourself as a result. The times where you could have been taking selfies with your friends or partying until the wee hours of the morning are instead focused on having a nice coffee by the river or taking your time in an art museum by going through the galleries at your own pace. Traveling solo is a good time to be selfish as you can set your schedule, your own destinations, and decide where you want to go and when you want to go. There’s nobody holding you back and that’s quite liberating. I often get a feeling of true freedom while traveling alone that’s not easily replicated.

Even if there was no one else physically with me, I have nice memories of my past solo travels. The moment when I woke up on my train to Krakow, Poland in the early morning to open my window to see fresh snow on the ground and the sun rising as we entered the train station. The feeling of pure relaxation as I enjoyed a nice mid-day cappuccino with a view of the Prague skyline in the Czech Republic, and the absolute quiet I felt as I sat on the beach in Parque Tayrona, Colombia and heard nothing but the soft, sea breeze and the waves splashing against my feet. These are the memories that I will cherish and never forget. That is why I enjoy the art of solo traveling.

Return to Colombia

bilingueprogram
“Yes, there are quite a lot of us in our group of teaching fellows for Colombia Bilingue. Pretty cool.”

After my first experience of living and working in Colombia was cut short rather unceremoniously, I decided not to give up on volunteering here as an English teacher and worked hard over the past three and a half months to return to this beautiful and lively country. After going through visa, medical, flights, and other forms of tedious paperwork all over again, I remained committed to what brought me to Colombia in the first place; a chance to improve the English proficiency of my students and to inspire them to look at the world a bit differently than before.

I have arrived here again in early July to accept the role of ‘English Teaching Fellow’ with the Heart for Change program and Volunteers Colombia organizations with the additional support of the Colombian Ministry of Education. I was extremely excited to hear that I had been accepted to this program in mid-April of 2016. Since then, I’ve worked diligently to prepare myself for the responsibilities and duties expected of me during these next six months to a year.

I’m quite proud to be among 240 English Teaching fellows who have come from over 30 countries around the world to be apart of this mission. It’s truly inspiring to meet and see other teachers come from nations like Iceland, Iran, Kenya, Serbia, and elsewhere with the goal of making Colombia a bilingual nation. This effort to improve the English language proficiency level of Colombia’s students is a massive undertaking and a worldwide effort. I am glad to once again play a small role as an ESL teacher in making Colombia more proficient in the English language.

After arriving in Bogota, the capitol of Colombia, the other 240 fellows and I underwent a week of intensive teacher training in order to prepare us for the job that lies ahead. While the topics that we went over were mostly review for me given my past experiences, I was grateful for the refresher and was impressed by the job done by the UNICA (Institucion Universitaria Colombiano Americana) in helping prepare us for the program’s start.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore much of Colombia’s capitol city of Bogota but I was able to walk around and check out the historic district along with the Plaza de Bolivar. In addition, I was able to dance some Salsa, eat some delicious Ajiaco soup at La Puerta Falsa (highly recommend), and practice Spanish again with the locals. Hopefully, I will be able to return to Bogota soon because there is a lot to do there and it’s a bustling metropolis on the same level as New York City and Mexico City.

What someone would notice immediately about Bogota is the unpredictability of its’ climate and it’s weather patterns. It could be sunny and warm in the early afternoon, completely cloudy an hour later, and then rainy and cold in the evening. If a direct comparison can be made with a U.S. city, the weather of Bogota would most closely resemble Seattle for better or worse.

Bogota is tucked in close to the Andes which allows visitors an excellent view of nearby towering, green mountains that jut out beyond the modern array of skyscrapers and office buildings. Bogota, like other Colombian cities, are urban oasis’s surrounded by rivers, mountains, and tropical jungles. Thankfully, from what I have noticed, there is a healthy balance here between nature and civilization, which is lacking in other places.

After having finished the initial paperwork, received my certificate from UNICA, and flown on to Medellin where I’ll be working full-time as a co-teacher in a public school starting next week, I am happy to close a past chapter in my life and open up a new one which has a positive, optimistic outlook. The first six months of 2016 were tough for me personally but I’ve put the past behind me and am ready for what comes next.

I look forward to finishing the work that I started back in January 2016 here in Colombia and hope to do some good work for my new students for the next six months or more. It’s been a wild ride with ups and downs, but I’m happy to continue riding the rollercoaster and seeing where I end up. For now, I’m fortunate to be back here in Colombia and won’t let this second chance go to waste. Todos Por Un Nuevo Pais!