For the Curious

If you have a travel-related question, feel free to write to me at 9penceblog@gmail.com. I’ll do my best to get back to you as soon as possible!

If there are any FAQ, I will post my responses below.

Q. So, do you speak German yet? 

A. Ha. No.

Q. How many languages do you speak? 

A. One. I think it’s a big failing of countries that speak English as a first language that our educational systems don’t really emphasize the importance of learning another when you already speak the “global language” fluently. I studied French through high school and can usually understand most of what people say to me if they speak slowly enough. I picked up some Spanish while I was backpacking through South America – the majority of which I have already forgotten – and I have very basic language skills in German. For more of my thoughts on this, you’re welcome to check out my blog post IV: A Plea for Language.

Q. Do you find it hard travelling through non-English speaking countries? 

A. Yes, it’s a daily challenge. In South America especially there are a number of places where you won’t find any English speakers. I used a lot of hand gestures to communicate and was always grateful to make bilingual friends. Even so, you miss out on a lot when you can’t speak to locals. In Berlin I certainly feel ostracized from the community since I don’t speak German – I can’t read the newspapers, I don’t understand what people talk about on trains and other public places, I often even have to Google translate Facebook events.

Q. Why did you choose to settle in Berlin? 

A. This city is remarkable. During the Cold War years it was completely split in two and each half developed very differently. Since the – still recent – fall of the Berlin Wall, it has evolved even further and is still in transition today. I think there are very few cities in Western Europe that are currently trying to find their own identities. The result is that Berlin is highly diverse, not only in terms of its population and architecture, but in the sense that you can go to one neighbourhood and see graffiti on every corner, watch buskers or beggars in the street, stumble upon cozy cafes, and breathe in cigarette smoke curling out from grungy bars. While a few streets away you’ll find glossy office buildings, spot men and women who belong on a runway, frequent fine dining establishments and stroll along the banks of the river with flocks of swans floating along beside you. It is impossible to understand Berlin in just a few days; I knew I needed to live here if I wanted to even be able to grasp a few of the nuances of this incredibly vibrant and fascinating place.

Q. How can you afford all of this travel?

A. Through a lot of work and a lot of luck. I was fortunate enough to have my parents support my education, which meant I was able to graduate without any student debt. At the same time, I had summer jobs during high school and worked throughout university. After my first backpacking trip I found myself working two full-time jobs back home – one in an office during the day and the second in a restaurant at night. I worked both for over a year, during which time I slept little and saw my friends infrequently. I tend to break technology so I don’t buy much of it, I don’t own a car or a house, I feel self-conscious when I wear jewellery or recognizable labels, and when I do go shopping or out with friends, I set a fairly modest budget for myself and try to stick to it. Saving isn’t always easy, it does require some sacrifices, but I enjoyed the work I did and found inexpensive outings with my friends, which kept my dream of travel alive and my bank account stable.

Q. Aren’t you scared of travelling alone? 

A. I’m asked this question surprisingly often and still don’t have an easy answer for it. As I mentioned briefly in my post on Travel Paranoia, I often find that when staying in hostels I almost immediately meet fellow travellers, so I’m hardly ever completely alone. However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been verbally harassed on the street, no matter where I am in the world, what I am wearing or who I am with. In South America men whistle or make this peculiar clicking noise, in English-speaking countries I understand the often derogatory or disrespectful catcalls shouted out at me at all times of day and in all seasons. I’ve been followed down the street numerous times and even recently had a man follow some friends and me onto a train, who only left us alone when another male stranger intervened. The full answer to this question is something I often reflect on, and one I intend to write about in a blog post one day. For now, suffice it to say that yes, I am sometimes scared and yes I have definitely felt threatened but, unfortunately, this seems to be the norm all over the world. I refuse to curtail my own life experiences because of those men who do their best to make me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. In my daily life I take reasonable precautions and just try to ignore these situations when they arise. And I continue to celebrate all the incredible people I have met, while doing my best to forget the few unpleasant encounters.

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