Thursday, 29 September 2011

Arrived in Paris

I arrived in Paris on Tuesday afternoon. Its ridiculously hot right now, hotter than when I was last here in July, 8 years ago. Ive had to dig out my summer clothes that I had packed for next year. Successfully used the subway and toured around Paris without getting lost yet but Matt gets full credit for that. I have yet to plan a route or follow the map. Tomorrow we move onto Dusseldorf; Germany. I am excited to see new things but I am dreading transporting my very large suitcase on and off the subway and up and down the stairs. Tip, if you are planning to travel around like I did, maybe take a smaller suitcase. The medium of a luggage set, not the largest.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Packing for the year

Packing for an entire year with 4 seasons in 55 ibs checked and 22 ibs carry on is not an easy task, especially when you have no idea what kind of job you will have to dress for once you get over there.
I’ve packed items that can be worn with a variety of things and left those things I rarely wear out and this is where I’m at…
Round 1: the majority of the clothes fit, but there were still a number of other important items that were not able to fit. And ive definitely compromised on pretty shoes.
Round 2: Removed a few more clothing items and tried to re-arrange the suitcases, not having much luck.
Round 3: Purchased more vacuum seal bags (can be found in the storage solutions aisle at Walmart) to compress my clothes, but it was still pretty tight.
Round 4: Eliminated a few more tops, a light hoodie and two wool sweaters which consumed a fair amount of space. Finally managed to fit almost everything in the suitcase except for the makeup case, a journal and a few other products and documents. While I had left some space for them to slide in, I weighed the suitcase at this point…only 6 more pounds of free weight left. I agonized over what I could possibly do without for another hour and sat on the contents of my suitcase for a while hoping they would compress. They didn’t.
Final Solution: Ive come to the conclusion that what still has to go in, should only put me over by a couple of pounds. My mom and my aunt couldn’t watch this any longer and have told me straight out that for an entire year, if I have to pay $30 extra for my bag, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

…. It seemed like the end of the world. They agreed to cover the costs if it would get me out of sitting in my suitcase. It did. Now I just have to figure out the carry on suitcase and my backpack and getting all of the electronics in.

Tips for anyone travelling: The vacuum sealed bags help save a lot of room in the suitcase. The only problem is that they do not reduce weight and you may need to ensure that coming home, you’ll have access to a vacuum to reseal the bags. Matt and I don’t have carpet in our apartment so I’m hoping maybe a neighbor will own a vacuum cleaner. And my fingers are crossed that immigration doesn’t try and open the bags, because I am fairly positive…they will not be lending me a vacuum cleaner.

As for determining what to take and what to leave……….
I’ve already advised you about the hair straightener, but as for the rest…I am clearly not the right person to be advising. And Matt…he met the free weight restrictions, but he forgot some clothes at my house, and his laptop power cord…didn’t make the trip either (<3 ) Fortunately, its not that expensive to ship something like that and his parents are able to do so.

Where would we be, without them? Up the creek probably.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tips for travelling abroad, for longer periods of time

For any SWAPPERS (or people travelling abroad) reading this blog:

My advice and recommendations for you:

- Read through the welcome package very carefully. Do everything it suggests you do or look into. For example, you must notify your government health office if you will be out of the country for longer than 6 months and sign a form to this extent.
- If something is very unclear to you, ask.
Ask either your travel counselor or write to college council with the e-mail address provided. I wrote to them a couple times and always had prompt and helpful responses within a day or two.
- Check the expiry dates on your: Debit Card, Visa Card, Health Card, and Driver’s License. SWAP does not list this as something to do and I fortunately (or unfortunately) decided to check 6 weeks before my departure date. My debit, health, and driver’s license ALL expire on my birthday while I am away. The debit card was easy to replace, the health card required I go into the OHIP office and ask for an extension, they sent me a card with a new expiry 5 weeks later. The driver’s license is a bit trickier. If it expires within 6 months, you can have it renewed. But if you are leaving 7 months before it expires, you have to write them a letter, explaining where you are and why you are away and when you will be returning to Canada. Provide a copy of your license and they will issue a one-time temporary 6 month extension and mail it to you in whichever country you are now currently living. What a pain!
- Get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) issued by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). They are valid for up to a year and provide a translation of what your class of driver’s license means in their country. Also, your driver’s license is only valid in their country for up to 6 months without it.
-Notify your bank and visa company that you will be away and where you are going. The last thing you need is for them to put a hold on your card while you’re away due to “foreign charges”.
- Consider how you will be travelling and the things you personally need to take on your trip before following others packing guides. The large backpack isn’t for everyone. I personally have one and have gone on a few backpacking trips. While it does leave your hands free, it’s also a lot of weight on your back. The last time I wore it, I was on the subway in Paris when I was 15. The subway charged ahead and the weight caused me to fall over onto an older lady!! For this trip, I’m lending the backpack to my cousin and taking my suitcase on wheels, leaving my back free for a normal sized backpack.
-Only ONE nice outfit for interviews??:  my thoughts?: what happens after you get the job? While you may not be getting glamorous jobs, even pubs and stores require some level of dress and often want employees to wear black dress pants. Why not bring a couple? After meeting with friends and family members who have previously or currently LIVE in Europe, many will tell you that clothes over there are much more expensive than here. And then if you have to get them tailored.... So, when you are deciding what to pack and someone tells you that you can just get it over there, consider at what cost can you get it once you’re over there?
-When deciding what to pack, ask everyone you know who has already lived abroad what you need to take (and leave behind) and tread lightly on the advice from those who have only vacationed for a short period of time…and always over pack..
…and here’s a tip you can throw out the window..
-Wear your winter coat on the plane (in September), people always say you should pack the lightest and wear the heaviest” While the latter part might be true, for example wearing your hiking boots instead of light shoes, on what universe would it be a good idea to wear your winter jacket, while travelling, in September?!?! It’s still warm enough that I am not even wearing a thin BENCH jacket on a consistent basis so why would I put on my winter coat? “Because once you check your luggage, you can just carry it over your arm”. Yes but, what happens after you pick up your luggage, have to commute by trains, buses and subways and because you are carrying your luggage, you have to wear your winter sweat, overheat and then pass out from heat exhaustion, that’s what the lifeguard in me is sure will happen. Maybe you will open your suitcase in the middle of the airport and pack your winter coat once you’re off the plane and have cleared the weight restriction, or maybe not. But you count the number of people who make this recommendation to you in the summer or early fall...
-Invest in a luggage scale. You can pack and unpack a million times to get it right. This way, you won’t have to unpack your suitcase in the middle of the airport or risk paying the extra weight fee.
-Bring a set of sheets. This goes back to my comment, at what cost are you willing to get it for over there. I’ve talked to many friends and my boyfriend who has already spent a year abroad about this and they’ve all commented that trying to find sheets on a low budget is not an easy task. If you do find sheets that aren’t too expensive, the quality is quite crappy, so consider pricing out sheets before you leave and watch for the deals here.
-Talk to your financial advisor about ALL of the ways you can get money while overseas. Your advisor will know which banks your bank is affiliated with and whether that means you get a discounted rate to withdraw money, they can also advise you of other ways to obtain cash if needed.
-Make a packing list. Don’t just say toiletries, list everything you want to take with you, that way, you can check it off as you pack it and don’t risk forgetting something that might have been important.
-The hair straightener, to pack or not to pack. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that my expensive straightener, will be staying at home. The reason? It’s NOT dual voltage. The sales associate at the Source pointed out on the converter packaging that it specifically notes NOT to use with hair straighteners, why? Because the unit itself will overheat in just 5 minutes. And if I’ve learned anything from watching Jersey Shore, it’s to leave it at home. In the second episode, season 4, Deena comments that the straightener smells like it’s burning, but continues using it..a few minutes later, it literally burned the strand of hair off of her head. I will not be losing my hair in Germany. I’ll take my mini straightener that is one, dual voltage and two, was free anyways and use on my bangs, we’ll see if it lasts.
-Budget for an extra week’s worth of travelling. After booking my flight and determining my orientation date in Berlin, I e-mailed college council to advise them of my arrival date and which orientation session I intended to attend. Two days later, I found out this orientation session had been moved 5 days later!! Luckily I had not yet booked my flight into Berlin from Düsseldorf. Instead I will have an extra day of travelling and site seeing, will move to my apartment with Matt before even attending the orientation session and then fly to Berlin. This will cost me an extra flight or train and set me back 2 or 3 days in my search for work. Be prepared for the unexpected.
-SWAP with 2 night’s accommodation option.. don’t plan to fly into your country of choice 2 days ahead of the scheduled orientation and expect to be accommodated by SWAP. I found out when I booked my flight that SWAPs accommodation does not begin until the day OF your orientation. Not that is concerned me, but it might be helpful for you to know ahead of time. Plan for this.
-Wear a money belt. I am dreading putting this on, but it’s a safe place to keep your passport or other cash. After hearing about two acquaintances who had their hotel room broken into, their passports stolen, and then had to pay $300 each to have their passports expedited from Canada..I will not be taking that chance.

My next to actually pack my own suitcases, using the valuable advice I have received so far.

Getting my Visa

The process:
Having decided the end of May I was moving to Germany, I made it a little more official the middle of June. I filled out my registration form and took my reference letter and $480 registration fee to the closest travel cuts, as outlined on the SWAP website. I was a little nervous but I sat down with the first available travel agent and told him I wanted to register for SWAP. This agent became my “travel counsellor”. Due to the nature of the program, I spent very little time with my travel counsellor. I handed him my forms and I paid my registration fee and that was it.

My mom couldn’t believe it when I told her how much I had just paid for the registration, “WHAT DOES THAT GET YOU?!” She was right, I didn’t really know what that got me and $480 was starting to sound like more and more money. Within the next week as outlined on the site, I received my Welcome Package (EXCITING!). At the second step of the process, was it worth the money?? ...YES, YES, and YES! The Visa application form was in 4 different languages, the printing was small and I didn’t even know what some of the questions were referring to. Luckily it came with a sample form where someone had demonstrated all of the necessary information I should be including. The package also included a very detailed list of everything I would need to submit to my travel counsellor in order to get a visa. Anything else? Yep, it included a handbook specifically
y geared to working and living in Germany, where to look, and a sample Resume and Cover Letter template (because they are very different from those in Canada).

I took my time throughout the rest of June and July and didn’t submit my forms until Mid August. The package itself didn’t take too long to compose, I just couldn’t decide on when I wanted to leave! In order for your visa to be processed, you had to book a flight and purchase medical insurance. I was also saving up my work money for the support funds suggested as necessary for the trip as I would have to submit a letter from the bank with my visa application.

I submitted my application to my travel counselor and within 3 weeks, had reached part three. I received my visa, my boarding pass, and a package full of maps and Germany guide books.

As mentioned in my last post, I am moving with Matt. His job is pre-arranged and his orientation is set so my leave date revolved around that and whether we would travel or not first. The verdict: Were meeting in Paris, France a week before his orientation and spending a few days in Paris and a few days in Düsseldorf, Germany before moving into our apartment. And so September 26, 2011 (just 4 days now) is the big day when I depart from Montreal and head out on this journey!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

I’m moving to Germany!

The Decision:
After finishing school in December, I moved home; broke and without a job. I spent two and a half months looking and not finding anything. I eventually returned to work for the city as a lifeguard and instructor in March. While I would love to work in the Aquatics environment, coordinating and supervising programs, getting there is a process. Full-time hours aren’t offered during the year and with low seniority, I was not guaranteed a position throughout the summer. Fortunately, I was able to return to my previous summer job as an Aquatic Supervisor with a military facility, although this contract would end the end of August. When my Boyfriend Matt was offered a teaching position in Germany (to begin in October) and asked me to go with him, I couldn’t think of a better time to go!

This decision however, was not made without prior research. I spent a lot of time goggling search words such as: ‘working abroad’ and ‘Germany work visa’. The first few sites looked like Government sites and were not all the user friendly or encouraging. I finally came across SWAP. It provided me with statistics and all of the information I needed to make my decision and easily obtain a visa. I am a little bit worried about the lack of German I know (I took an elementary course this summer) and my ability to find a job in this country, however, I am told there are jobs out there. I will soon find out!

SWAP Shout Out:
For anyone who has ever considered working abroad, definitely take a look at this site.
Pick your destination and on one page, it tells you all of the information you need to know. Who can apply, when to apply, how to apply, and the funds necessary to do so successfully based on your country of choice. Easily find links to their blog and facebook pages where people who are participating in the program currently lend their advice, answer your questions and offer their friendship. While the last part sounds a bit cheesy, it’s true; you will meet people who plan on attending the same orientation sessions as you and those are great people to share resources with.

I intend on writing more about my positive experience with SWAP and give you an eye into how it works as the process continues. And of course, my adventures to and throughout Germany!