Gifts to send abroad

I’ve lived abroad for several years in different countries, and I am always so grateful and excited to receive any type of post from home, but when it’s a package, that excitement increases even more than getting a postcard. A huge thank you to everyone who has sent me postcards and letters over the years, I have kept every single one of them and I found some earlier, which prompted this post.

When you have friends of family living abroad, and want to send them a gift, here are some things to consider…not all home comforts can be sent abroad.

First and most importantly, I think you should never send anybody anything valuable. You should send things with the back thought that ‘it might not get there’, because trust me, not all packages arrive. Some are opened by customs or nibbled at by mice before it gets to the receiver and some just never ever arrive at all.

Food

Food and comfort food is always great to send. Always check the date on what you send, as parcels could take from 10 days to 10 weeks to arrive. Coming from the UK, I always request Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and it’s much better to send a multipack of individual bars, rather than a big 500g block. Because if you open a 500g bar, you have to either share it, or eat it all within a few days. 10 x 50g bars last a lot longer. Plain chocolate is always better than anything with caramel or sticky things inside, as they sometimes leak (creme eggs).

I missed cereals when I was in China, and a friend of mine had the greatest idea to send one of those Kelloggs multipack of cereals, you know, the ones for indecisive children. They’re light, so cheap to send and also nostalgic.

Stuff to read

If you’re a book fan, like me, you might run out of things to read. Even with a kindle, there is still nothing greater than a nice paperback book, a magazine or newspaper clipping from home. Most charity shops sell books for between 50p and £1.50, so they are not expensive to buy.

Cosmetics

Not all foreign countries have the same brands and types of cosmetics as they do at home. Asian countries that attach a high importance to looking pale, use a lot of whitening products in their cosmetics, so it’s nice to receive some moisturiser or hand cream from home, knowing that it won’t bleach your skin. Make sure it’s properly sealed, cos a leakage of creams could be devastating.

Teaching aids

If your loved one is teaching overseas, ask them if they need any teaching aids that you can’t get abroad – like blu tac, ‘well done!’ stickers or colouring books to make photocopies of. Blu tac really isn’t sold overseas!

My Chinese Bucket List – the things I did and didn’t do

As China is so far away and such a different country, I had a mental bucket list of things I wanted to do whilst I was here, this is the first time it’s been properly documented.

The things I did (in the order I remember them)

  • See the panda bears in Sichuan province
  • Buy plenty of tacky panda merchandise – I’ve got two panda t-shirts, a passport holder and a luggage tag, not too outrageous
    Panda love
  • Take an overnight sleeper train

Window with a view

  • Climb the Great Wall

长城

  • Go to KTV
  • Eat chicken feet
  • Go for a swim in the Yellow Sea
    人山人海
  • Buy a cheongsam (it doesn’t fit but I still bought one)
  • Go to visit the Chinese countryside
    农村
  • Use chopsticks at least once a day
  • Visit Coventry’s Chinese sister city Jinan
    Jinan
  • Climb a couple of mountains
    Emei Mountain

  • Drink Chinese tea
    Tea pots and cups

  • Watch Chinese TV
  • See Chinese city lights at night
    Shanghai

The things I didn’t do (or haven’t done yet?)

  • Swim in the famous water cube pool where Phelps won eight golds
    Water Cube
  • Take a boat trip on the Yangtse/Yellow river
  • See a Chinese movie in the cinema with no English subtitles
  • Study a martial art or calligraphy
  • See the sunrise
  • Watch a regional Chinese opera

To be continued/updated….I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten.

*Next stop Thailand.

Heading East, Can’t Sleep

I write this blog post from my bed. I can’t sleep, I have butterflies in my tummy and I can’t stop thinking and stressing about my next adventures. Even though the furthest I have been away from home was my year in Chile, with 7573 miles between Temuco and Coventry, I feel like my next set of travels will be my biggest challenge yet. 

First I am going travelling in India, to see some good friends of mine that I met last year in Nottingham. I have no doubt that they will look after me very well (there are even talks about one of their cousins’ weddings being in February!) but I am still very nervous about going to a country that I have very little knowledge about. I don’t know any Indian languages and my knowledge of the big Eastern religions (Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddism) is a bit rusty. I don’t know what clothes I’ll have to wear and I am very nervous about the risk of malaria and Dengue fever. Then there’s the overcrowded cities, the public transport, the mosquitoes and the idea of being so far away from home (ie time difference) is daunting.

After just over two weeks in India I will travel to China…from New Delhi, India. I found two flights to get me to Qingdao that were cheaper (and much better for my carbon footprint) than returning to the UK between visits. This also means I have to step up my act and get all my Chinese paperwork done before I leave for India…and I have to pack for two very different countries with a 20kg weight limit. 

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Overall I feel a little let down by my university in regards to my year abroad. I am still a member of the student community but I am unsure who to actually write an email to when I have a question that needs answering…and I am a person who has a lot of questions. My academic tutor is usually in Guatemala or somewhere like that, researching to write more scholarly articles and the year abroad team are split into the international office and then somebody is on maternity leave and it’s all very confusing. Maybe they organised it that way on purpose so that they wouldn’t receive emails from worried and stressed students. I understand that at any one given point there are hundreds of students abroad and we cannot each be assigned a mentor, but I think that an “are you ok?” email once every couple of months from somebody (anybody) would show that the university still has some kind of responsibility or interest in my welfare.

There have been many obstacles in organising my time abroad, especially on the Chinese side due to the language barrier, strict immigration/visa procedures and with the university offering a new exchange scheme, starting with my year group. I tend to skim read emails now that concern China as many contain, not bad news, but just not the type of news I want to hear. For example one told us how we had been offered brand new student accommodation on campus in the international building, something like that…however, the building work hadn’t begun on this building yet and it is likely to be finished well after we arrive in China. 

There was a time when I really didn’t want to go to China. I was more than happy staying in Spain and the thought of moving to a city with a population of millions was looking more and more like a nightmare each day. Now I have come around to the idea more and now that my flights are booked, everything is seeming pretty real. It will be an opportunity to speak and learn a lot of Chinese, live in a huge city (that has a metro, that’s a first) and also to experience the Chinese university life – 11pm curfew and all. 

Even so, I still have a huge to do list before I go. Normally if I split my to do list into sub categories they are: things you have to do, things to do if you get time and things you should do but let’s be honest you won’t. Now my to do list is separated into many categories all of which I simply have to do in the next month: packing, paperwork, health and “questions”. One of the questions on my to do list is quite simply “Do I have enough pairs of shoes?”.

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Facebook Unfriending

As I am about to set off on a six month trip to Spain, I am soon going to take time to go through my Facebook friend list and decide who I want to share my posts with and who I want to unfriend. This is not the first time I have done this, I might add. I am quite personal and protective over my photos; I don’t like to publish too many on Facebook as I feel they are my personal memories. I question whether the girl from my Spanish GCSE class should be ‘allowed’ to see and download these photos of mine.

At high school and university, it is very easy to fall into the social media trap of meeting somebody once and immediately adding them on Facebook. You find them easily through your five mutual friends and when the request is accepted, you have a cheeky stalk of their profile, as you have full access to their photos, status updates, relationship status, a map of where they have been and even their high score on Candy Crush. Don’t deny it, all students have done this stalking at one point or another. This form of online networking and adding people to your friends list helps to gain social acceptance in a group of friends, where often subjects of conversation in ‘real life’ involve “Did you see the video that Tom posted last night?”. Creating a large online network of friends is also essential as a student so that you can see and are invited to events. Online promotion using Facebook is now huge and with Facebook’s ‘invite only’ privacy setting for events, if you are not invited by a friend you are not and cannot be on the guestlist.

Whilst I am abroad, I plan to use Facebook to show my photos to others and also as a back up for them. I know that the chances of my camera getting stolen AND my laptop breaking are very unlikely, but there is some comfort in knowing that my pictures are all uploaded somewhere safer than a memory stick – especially given my history with memory sticks. See my previous post here http://wp.me/p3sHrJ-y .

In an ideal world, I would only have my family, close friends and coursemates as my Facebook friends so that only they could see my uploads and updates. But this is not an ideal world. Filtering through my friends list, I see countless names and faces of ‘friends’, yet I struggle to remember when the last time I saw them in person was. I think it is suitable to call this large group of people ‘acquaintances’. If I were to see them in the street I would say hello, if they were raising money for charity I would probably spare £5. However if I was in trouble, I wouldn’t call them for help. Neither would I invite them to a farewell party. Is it right to unfriend these acquaintances? If so, when is the right time to unfriend them and remove them from my social circle? I know that they haven’t progressed to the friend level and that they probably won’t any time soon – unless they are also going to the same places in Spain that I am. I know that I don’t want to share my photos and personal experiences with them whilst I’m away. So what is holding me back?

Well now, nothing is.

Now that I am not promoting via Facebook for my job, I am ready to declutter my friends list. I no longer need to spam their news feed to get ticket sales and to raise awareness of the company I work for.

The general questions I will ask myself of the friends in my list will be:

  • Do you actually like this person?
  • Have you spoken to this person face to face within the last year?
  • Do you remember having any particular good memories with this person?
  • Do you have them as a contact in your mobile?
  • If they were to upload baby/ marriage/ graduation etc pictures, would you care?
  • Will you see and talk to them in the near future?

If the answer is no to at least three of the above questions, I will most likely delete them as a friend on Facebook. That is not to say that in some years to come we can’t change our friendship status back to ‘friends’.

Why be so over dramatic? It’s only Facebook you might say. Well, I feel that already as an active internet user I don’t have as much privacy as I would like over content related to myself. A simple Google search of my name brings up links to my online accounts and posts. Another click on the images part of Google also shows pictures of myself. These are public for the whole world to see – friends, acquaintances, strangers, employers – and there is not a lot I can do to change this. Yet I do have control over my Facebook profile and I think it is essential to restrict my photos, updates, events and my personalised map to just my real friends.

Packing Up

After five weeks of exams I have now finished them all and have come to the end of my second year of university. I have enjoyed this year so much more than my freshers year, but as with every year in a person’s life there are things I wish I’d done more of, societies I wish I would have joined earlier and people I wish I would have connected more with.

As I want to make the most of my ‘free’ time out of the British education system, I have decided to go back to Valencia and au pair again for July and August. I leave at the end of the month and I am now feeling anxious about going so soon. I know the next couple of weeks should be chilled as I spend time with my family, but I know I will be panicking about bank accounts, immunisations and more importantly packing…

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Light traveller

Generally I am a very minimalistic person, compared to other people who have lots of ‘stuff’ I don’t seem to gather too much clutter (although my Mum may disagree when I move back home and bring back all my books).

Last time I went abroad for a year, my packing was terrible. I had one rucksack (pictured, weighing in at 16kg) and one small piece of hand luggage, despite being able to take 2 x 20kg bags and one 10kg piece of hand luggage. When I arrived in Chile, I soon realised that clothes-wise I’d packed only four t-shirts, two jumpers and three pairs of jeans. I had no coat, no towel and no formal clothes. The only things I did take plenty of were pairs of shoes, blue tac and unnecessary medical supplies (plasters, anti fungal cream, rehydration sachets and diarrhoea tablets – all of which were never used).

I have definitely learned from my mistakes and am determined to pack more than four t-shirts this time as I am preparing for my six month stay in Spain. However, because I am travelling with a no-frills airline my hold luggage weight limit is only 15kg. This worries me. 

As I look around my bedroom now and see all the things I have accumulated over the past two years I am filled with emotions and here are some pictures to demonstrate what I am feeling right now:

Nostalgia – when I see where I have been
Excitement – as I see the places I am yet to discover
Regret – should have gone to more fitness classes
Pride – after another year of learning 汉子
Faith – in friendships, love and religion
Patriotic – where my roots and my family are from (Irish flag should also be here)