Long Distance Relationships – How to Deal

Living far away from home means that many relationships will be strained. Not simply romantic relationships either but family and friendships, too. Being a good daughter or friend is hard to do when you live geographically near to a person, it involves a lot of effort to visit, make phone calls, and to truly listen and be involved in the other person’s life. To be present in any relationship is a skill that is often left by the way side for Facebook feeds and other modern-day distractions. When you add distance to the mix it can be a time zone challenge to strongly maintain the relationships you leave behind.

I have been in a long distance relationship since 2010 and I have lived away from my friends and family for years at a time. Fortunately, my romantic relationship is not always long distance. We are an international couple that met while teaching in Korea, so things have always been about visas and passport stamps. In my view, I am extremely lucky for this, for even though we sacrifice not being able to physically live near to one another, we make up for it in adventures to far away locations, and we have mapped out our lives to be able to spend long spans of time together throughout the years. Reversely though while we were happily living and exploring the world together I had to give up being near to my family and he away from his, it has been years of trade-offs.

When we are apart we have had to adapt our relationship by being flexible and understanding. If you find yourself accepting a job far away from those you love, know that it will take exactly that – adaptability and flexibility. After years of living through distance, here are some tips of advice to get you through the miles apart.

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Learn Each Other’s Schedules

It takes time to get used to time zone differences. While living abroad in Korea I had to constantly know what time it was in the U.S. and remind my family of the 14 hour time difference so that we could organize Skype calls. In my first year when I was younger and enjoying Korea’s endless nightlife (quite literally the nightlife is endless because the bars don’t close until the people leave) I would phone my sister in the U.S. after returning from a night out at 4 or 5 am Korean time because I was tipsy and homesick and it made sense being that it was 2 or 3 pm on Saturday there. Drunk dialing my sister became normal.

Be sure to update your loved ones when your schedule changes. If say you get a new job, take on more work, or have any other consistent change in your day-to-day schedule. Especially when working on a romantic, long distance relationship it is vital to update your partner on even minor changes. And therefore you will expect your partner to do the same, but sometimes we forget to inform and if that happens, talk it through and be forgiving.

Work Around Each Other

At this very moment I am doing long distance. Due to my work schedule the best time for us to speak is the last half hour of my lunch break at work. That time works because it’s mid-evening in Europe for him, so every day I tell him what time I’m going to take lunch, I quickly eat, and await his call. Once he rings, I bundle up and go for a walk while we talk for 30 minutes before returning to work. Speaking to your partner for 30 minutes a day is not a lot. We message each other throughout the day to supplement and sometimes he stays up late so I can call him when I finish work. It’s not ideal, but it’s wast we have to do.

Sometimes things don’t work out and a call doesn’t get made or it gets made late, which isn’t a big deal generally, but it is when you only have those precious 30 minutes and I’ll admit that the first emotion that I feel is usually anger. Generally I express my anger, we talk about the perfectly logical reason why the call was late, and then it’s forgotten. I typically apologize for my reaction and things are fine. You have to understand when you’re in a long distance relationship that your partner is living their life, taking care of things that come up, and interacting with people who are physically near to them. While respecting schedules is important, it is just as important to allow your partner personal time and the right to live in the moment.

Live in the Present, Keep Busy

A lot of people have questioned how I can live so far away from someone who I love and I always give them the same answer,which is that I keep busy. I try to pick up my hobbies more strongly; I practice more yoga, read more books, and spend time with friends. The same was true in Korea when I was homesick for my family, it was very difficult the first year, but with time I made Korea my home and tried to live less in the past. I’m not saying of course that my family was my past, but it was absolutely necessary to be present where I was and to form relationships there so that I could thrive and be happy.

If you’re struggling and feeling lonely in a new setting then the best advice I could give you would be to get involved in the local community. Seek out culture, music, meet-up groups, yoga studios, etc. that will keep you busy and help you feel a part of the community. Loneliness and homesickness will dissipate when you feel a part of you new surroundings.

Keep Those Far Away Involved

Once you start doing all these fun new things be sure to include those back home by sending updates. Send messages on social media, blog, or go old school and write some post cards. For romantic relationships I suggest sending loads of updates, even those that are thought of as mundane. My boyfriend and I send pictures of our pets, food, clothes, the weather, anything. I’ll admit he’s much better at updating me than I am him, and I very much appreciate knowing what his day-to-day life is like without me there. Having the constant updates also makes conversations flow more smoothly since the evidence of everyday life has been seen and will more likely be remembered.

When living far away from loved ones try your best to listen well to even all of the details of their daily lives. It might seem boring to hear who your mom saw at the store yesterday, but you would want her to care about the interesting food you ate in your new foreign country, too. Both conversations are the same in that the other person can not personally relate to what is being said by the other, but try as hard as you can to show interest, to ask questions, and to stay informed on what’s going on in each others’ lives.

 

Living far away from home is tough. It’s super hard at the beginning and with time it is less hard, but it’s always difficult. In order to maintain your relationships you must put in the effort, make sacrifices, and communicate often. In all honesty I am so grateful for my long distance relationship because it has filled my life with adventure and travel. I have a family in America and a family in Europe, and not many people can say that. Sure it’s difficult, but the hard work pays off.

 

 

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Natural Building an Introduction

My path to a more sustainable lifestyle has brought me to a very interesting and enjoyable place, to a whole morning and afternoon spent splattering and spreading a wet mix of clay, sand, water, and little strands of straw onto a wall. A morning of hands-on-learning in the field of natural building. Playing in the mud may sound odd, but this sort of building technique is ingenious – and it’s old. It is is a style of natural building, possibly dating from as early as the 13th century in England with other types of natural building originating all around the world, because if you think about it – in the past we all used to have to build our own structures to live in, so clearly in every corner of the world there lies an historic tradition, passed down generation to generation, as to how to build a house to live in.

Nowadays, however, it is quite rare that a family builds their entire house from the ground up. In modern times it is more normal to hire a company, or rather a plethora of companies to build components of the building where you will spend most of your time. Separate contractors are hired to plan and design the home, dig and lay the foundation, and do everything in between until the very last sheet of drywall is nailed into place. Then decoration begins which is also commonly hired out to an interior designer. Modern homes are often beautiful structures made for convenience and luxury living, but they often lack authenticity. What they don’t lack however, is quite a lot of toxicity in the materials used for building and decorating. Not to mention price tags that will make anyone’s jaw drop. Natural building can offer an alternative to conventional building; you can learn to build an entire house, a second structure, or spruce up the interior with natural modifications to existing rooms in your home.

Learning to build or modify an existing structure using natural building techniques is a great way to make your house your unique home while at the same time saving you, your loved ones, and your furry friends from exposure to toxic chemicals. Natural building uses as often as possible, materials that come straight from the earth. Some common materials used are straw bales, bare tree limbs, and good old clay and mud. Examples are the structures that still exist in Wales and England today. They’re called cob and they’re being reinvigorated and recreated in countries all over the world by normal, everyday people just like you and I.

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A cob building in construction, by a totally normal dude.

Examples of natural building that I have seen and wondered over have ranged from cob ovens, whole cob-hobbit-like houses, to the most stunning and thoughtfully/naturally built yoga studio I have ever seen. The ovens and houses I have seen in places like the U.S. and Greece. Houses I’ve seen were in Canada, Greece, Czech Republic (featured image,) and the U.S. And the yoga studio, majestically called the Maloca, is situated on a cliff side surrounded by mountains at the awe-inspiring Re-Green. (A detailed write up featuring the Maloca to come in the future.)

Natural built structures can be described as adorable, fairy-like, hobbit homes and the like. Unlike conventional homes lined up row after row in the same color with the same basic shapes, natural buildings are unique and organic. They get formed slowly, thoughtfully, and beautifully. After seeing natural homes around the world I wonder why anyone would want to live in a square, white box when they could live in a warm, cozy, hand-built house.

There is a lot to be said and shown regarding natural building. Just like yoga, it’s hard to give a brief introduction because both natural building and yoga have such depth, history, styles, and detail about them. For that reason I’m going to cut this intro short and end it here. Look for more posts with descriptions and inspirations of natural building in the future.

For now if you’d like to see more fairy-like natural building, simply type in “natural building” in google search and click on the Images – so many beautiful, hand-built, non-toxic structures to admire out there on the interwebs! Or satisfy yourself with the pics provided in this post.

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Straw bale house in construction, Ohio, USA.

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Admiring the rain on the garden of the largest cob house I’ve ever seen in Canada.

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A cob, tadalakt finished cob oven, in use! Re-green, Greece

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Natural Building techniques to make a beautiful facade on an ashram in the Czech Republic. 

 

The Magic at Re-Green, Greece

This has been a summer of travel for me. After leaving Korea back in February I started travelling, meeting people, and learning through experiences in countries such as India, Greece, Poland, Czechia, and now Canada. I’ve been able to do so through a network called Help-X which you can read more about right here. One of my favorite stops in all of my travels and all of my Help-X past experiences has, by far, been at Re-Green in Greece.

Now before I get started and carried away, typing out hundreds of words on the wonders that I found at Re-Green, I’d better reign in my thoughts right here and right now. To make things easy on both of us, I’ll narrow down my thoughts to just four simple bullet points. And before I do so, let me also explain that I hope that this write-up can stand as a review for those considering trying to volunteer through a work exchange network there, or those who may attend one of their many workshops (including yoga and PDC.) More than a review, maybe it will open your eyes and mind to some cool new ideas that they’re doing over there. If nothing else, may Re-Green inspire you on your path to sustainability, whichever route it is you are taking to get there.

Why Re-Green is Magical

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  • Their View on Life – The people over at Re-Green have called their homestead-retreat center/little-piece-of-paradise Re-Green for a reason. The name stands for a conscious lifestyle that is about living a sustainably by doing more than recycling and buying energy-efficient light bulbs. To Re-Green is to work with each other and nature in order to live harmoniously with the surrounding environment, which is exactly what they strive to do at their home.  You can read  more on their website about what Re-Green stands for. A real life example of Re-greening that they have there is turning an old trunk into a solar oven to bake your potatoes in for dinner. It was so cool.

 

  • The People – From the first time that Ben and I were picked up on a cold cloudy day  in April by a big white, windowless van (I know that sounds more scary than magical, but it turned out just fine in the end – don’t let the media scare you out of having adventures!) The friendly people in the van were of course the owners and stewards of  Re-Green. It’s not always that you meet new people and instantly click, but that’s what happened. During the weeks that we stayed there were a handful of other volunteers from all over Europe and they too we jived with straight away. Lots of late nights sharing stories and laughing. It was easy and obvious why so many new friends were made there, it was because people were drawn there who believe in a philosophy of bettering the world by enhancing nature.

 

  • Surrounded by Beauty – Stunning mountain peeks surround the valley that the retreat center nestles in and almost every day I found myself wondering how I’d ended up at such a majestic place on earth. Looking closer to the ground you’ll see wildflowers and abundant gardens blossoming all around. Cuteness overload with puppies, ducklings, and little baby chicks added to the happiness.  On clear days you can see down to the Gulf of Corinth; the view of the sea from the middle compost toilet is especially lovely. At night-time the stars take over and during rain or cold, it’s the natural buildings that inspire.

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  • Experiences Not Things – Going to a retreat center that hosts events from yoga, to learning about detoxing herbs, to preserving the gardens gifts, means that you are bound to learn loads. Sharing ideas and ways with other volunteers and guest teachers will also translate to learning and as a volunteer the learning will be hands on and practical. If working on your vacation sounds like torture then check out their events on Facebook and visit as a guest. The rooms alone are reason enough to spend a weekend there, they are housed in an old, stone farm house with so much attention to detail in the remodel (they’ve been Re-Greened you might say!) While I was there I was in heaven doing yoga, teaching yoga, learning about vegetation, hiking, natural building, cuddling dogs, reading books, pulling weeds, and the list could go on.

 

This post is not so much a review as it is a gush of a place that I absolutely fell in love with. They had me at their description of their purpose and I hoped, and prayed, and crossed my fingers back in January 2016 when I applied for my boyfriend and I to volunteer there that they would take us, and then I jumped for joy when I got an email that they would. Our six weeks there were so absolutely astounding that we never wanted to leave. Maybe one day we’ll do as so many others who have visited there have done – move our lives there. Previous volunteers have fallen in love with the place and the people so much so that they bought land to become part of the Re-Green community. Moving to the mountains of Greece may just be a day dream of mine for now, but I can still day dream. If you likewise find yourself daydreaming about living life in a  real-life-sustainable-fantasy-land, then make it a reality and get yourself to Re-Green.

Yoga at Ohio City Farm, Cleveland, by Vision Yoga – Class Review

This past week, from July 18-21, a handful Americans convened on Cleveland for the Republican National Convention (RNC.) Events of the RNC for me included some great live music, witnessing protests and stepping in to participate here and there, and at the end of the week a much needed outdoors, community yoga class.

There was a lot of stress and disbelief for me as a newly repatriated American. Tossed into the heart of Cleveland for the RNC was a little overwhelming, the most being hatred, homophobia, racism, and guns. It was an atmosphere that required deep exhalations.  Countless cops from all over the U.S. in the middle of tension on all sides. There was also a some good happening – people protesting and opposing the hate.

The whole thing had me shaking my head in confusion and disbelief which is why I was ever so grateful for a community class at Ohio City Farm . The class was the day after the convention ended (thankfully,) on Friday afternoon at lunchtime. At first I wasn’t sure if I’d attend since temperatures and humidity were high, but the class was in a far off corner of the farm, under a large, shady tree, in view of the Cleveland cityscape,  with a gentle breeze made the heat bearable.

The class was taught by a teacher from nearby studio, Vision Yoga, which is just a block away from the farm. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to visit the studio, but saw the storefront after grabbing a much appreciated post-class burrito. Based on their website, they have a lot of classes going on and are even offering a great new student and locals deal of 4 weeks at $40.

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Vision Yoga Studio 1861 W. 25th Street Cleveland, Ohio 44113

Getting There

The farm is easy to get to and is located just a short walk away from the historic West Side Market. Both are located just of of West 25th Street. The Ohio City Farm’s address is:

Stone Ct, Cleveland OH 44113

Follow this link for more detailed directions on how to get to the Ohio City area.

The Class

The farm class as mentioned before was taught at the far end of the farm, so be sure to give yourself about 10-15 minutes to find the spot and to fill out a waiver form if you haven’t been to Vision Yoga classes before. The class time is 12:15-1PM, just in time for a lunch break practice for those working nearby. It is a community class, or in other words, a donation class, so pay what you can and pay happily knowing that your money is going to a non-profit doing great things.

Community classes at the farm are every other Friday, so pay attention to Vision Yoga’s schedule to be sure that a class is taking place on the day you wish to attend. An organizer that I spoke to mentioned that she wasn’t sure if the classes would continue beyond August, but she and I hoped that classes would continue through September, as long as the weather cooperates.

The Refugee Response

The class that I attended was sponsored by The Refugee Response, an organization that works to help refugees settle into American life by offering English tutoring sessions; and something else that’s really cool – they employ refugees on the farm to work the land. Refugees from all over the world get to share their skills and gain a sense of purpose in their new community of Cleveland.

This is an awesome organization; if I were in Cleveland I would love to volunteer and get involved with them. If you’re local to the 216, then follow this link to find out how you can volunteer and help out. Maybe you can do your part by attending the next Community Class at Ohio City Farm.

 

Help-X vs. Wwoof

This has been the longest gap between posts for me since karabemisyoga was started back in 2014. I have been busy relocating (temporarily or permanently – )not quite sure) back into American life after living abroad for 4+ years. My trip in India and through Europe has sadly come to an end, but it has inspired posts such as this one, a comparison of two popular working holiday/work exchange networks. There will be more posts by me inspired by my travels, my practice, and my “new” life here in the U.S. Now for the article:


Why Help-X is Better Than Wwoofing

A previous post written was about Help-X, a network for hosts and helpers to find each other world-wide; hosts find helpers to do all sorts of work on their land and helpers find hosts in all corners of the globe to stay with and learn from while on their working holiday. As mentioned in that article, there are two other popular online networks out there: Wwoof and Workaway. You can have a look through all three and make your own decision, but having used both Help-X and Wwoof before (I’ve never used Workaway but met volunteers that have with success) my preference is Help-X. Here’s how Help-X and Wwoof compare.

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Location, Location, Location

  • Help-X One word – international. When you join the Help-X network you get access to farms, hostels, home-stays, etc. in cities and rural sites all over the world. You can search for a host in the Americas (North, Central, and South;) Europe, Australia, Asia, and pretty much everywhere else. As long as a host exists in a country then you can find a place to work with Help-X.

 

 

  • Wwoof On the other hand, in order to search for hosts using Wwoof you must join each individual country at a cost that would add up if you were planning to wwoof your way around multiple countries. You can bundle small, neighboring countries together which helps save on cost, but still if you compare the three countries of one said bundle: Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Belize for $33 to getting access to hosts around the world with Help-X for only $22, then the choice is pretty simple.

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Price Comparison

  • Help-X Membership comes in two types for helpers. You can join for free by creating a profile with your details. With a Free membership you will be able to browse partial profiles of hosts, leaving out the contact information which is how you start communication to organize a stay. However, hosts can contact you if you are a desirable helper. The second membership is Premier membership which gives you more power to view hosts’ full information, photos, reviews, maps, and more. It costs 20 euro ($22 USD) to upgrade to Premier membership. Membership lasts for two years and covers all continents. You can also join Help-X as a couple. Couple membership costs $29 USD for two people for two years.

 

  • Wwoof To be clear, I’ve only wwoofed once in Korea and have never joined the network in another country. The reason why I didn’t use it more is the cost. Wwoof membership in Korea is 50,000 won ($42 USD)/per person/per year. When my boyfriend joined and messaged a host he received acceptance; in the contact email he explained that it would be him and his girlfriend (yours truly, of course) coming to help for a week. A few days later he received two more emails, one from the host explaining that he had to cancel the arrangement on orders from Wwoof Korea and one directly from Wwoof Korea which canceled his membership and explained that he could not contact a host on behalf of two people without the second joining Wwoof Korea independently. Basically, they wanted me to pay 50,000 won and send a separate email although we were coming and volunteering together as a unit. It makes sense business wise for Wwoof, but it left a bad taste in my mouth about the organization which is clearly after money. In the end my boyfriend smoothed it over and we were able to volunteer without me creating my own profile. One point for the little guys!

 

Reviews

  • Help-X Reviews can be written for hosts by helpers and for helpers by hosts. This is useful for all involved because as a host it’s important to find reliable, friendly, hard-working helpers. Likewise as a helper it’s wise to choose carefully where and with whom you want to spend a few weeks with living and working together. When it comes time to choose where to volunteer, be sure to browse multiple profiles, take a look at supplemental websites or Facebook pages, and write thoughtful initial contact emails to each individual host you are interested in rather than copy and pasting a generic message to multiples.
  • Wwoof Again, I must state that I have not myself used Wwoof’s online network being put off by the price, but I have heard that their review section leaves you wanting more. I can’t say much here due to lack of real experience, but I will state that I overheard two veteran hosts complaining about the Wwoof system for an array of reasons, one of them being the lack of reviews.

 

Wwoofing is a similar network to Help-X and is something that my boyfriend and I were considering doing back in 2011 until we opted for Help-X, a decision that I very happy to have made. Others are equally happy with Workaway. Hosts that I have stayed with recently have had profiles on all three networks, so odds are that you won’t miss out whichever service you choose, but I would argue that you will miss out if you go with Wwoof if having a variety of hosts in countries all over the world is what you’re looking for.

By no means do I  wish to bash the organization or write with hate. I have had only the one negative interaction in the past and can’t use that to judge other international Wwoof networks not associated with the Korean network. To clarify, this piece is to help travelers out there making a decision about which network to go with and I hope that it helps in that decision.

For more on the subject, have a look at this article by our very own Amy Steele, written about Voluntourism for Busan HAPS magazine’s June 2016 issue.

Yogaspace, Prague, Czechia – Studio Review

 

Yogaspace is very centrally located in Prague. It is near to the main plaza of New Town Square, and according to their website they offer English yoga classes four times per week. Two classes on Tuesday, one Thursday and one on Friday. Times and specifics can be found on the link above. I attended the Tuesday evening Vinyasa Yoga class with Ivana at 6:45pm.

The class was a good pace for the students who attended, and it was well attended. In fact, I nearly didn’t make it in the room it was so packed; it was only due to a “no-show” that I was able to take the last mat space available. In order to secure your spot in a class, be sure to send a message by email or text. Contact information can be found at the bottom of the schedule page linked above.

Their website makes it clear that reservations for drop ins must be made ahead of time, but I guess I was so focused on directions that I overlooked it. It’s completely my fault that I was so close to not getting it, so I’m really grateful for the guy who didn’t show so I could squeeze in (thanks, guy!)

About Yogaspace

  • The Studio – Is average size and fits around 20 students packed in tightly mat-to-mat. When you first walk in you see the changing rooms which are equipped with large lockers with keys for you to secure your belongings during the class. Connected to the entrance way is the studio. It’s long and narrow with windows making up the entirety of the back wall. There are mats for use and mat spray for after class.

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  • The Class – The Vinyasa class was great, just as the class description said it was dynamic and sweaty (the description didn’t say it’d be sweaty, I’m adding that in myself.) Since the classes are listed with levels you’ll be able to find a class that’s right for you. Although my class was jam packed the teacher sill managed to get around and adjust most of us, which I was grateful for.

 

  • The Cost – A drop in class costs 220 CZK (about $9 USD) – again, remember to email or text ahead of time. If you’re in Prague for some time you can purchase an entire course of your choosing. Specific costs of each course is listed on the link and range from 1,680-1,820 CZK ($70.50-$76.50 USD.)

 

  • The Location/Getting There – As noted above, the studio is very central, great for a weary traveler to pop in and unwind after roaming through the big crowds of tourists and vendors in Old Town on those incredibly uncomfortable cobble stone streets! If you’re taking the metro the stop is Mustek (Museum,) exit out of the most eastern (or furthest to the right) exit that points towards New Town plaza. Then follow these directions:

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A Note on Getting There !! This is what the outside of the building that the studio 20160510_201704.jpgresides in looks like (with a lost tourist standing in front.) The main sign is for a salon, but if you enter the hangover of the building there is a large sign on the left that has the names of all of the businesses inside. You’ll see Yogaspace listed there. Enter the building, there’s a security guard, but the door was unlocked when I went. Inside the building is where it became like a maze. I was almost super late to the class because I ran up the wrong staircase (twice) and then took an elevator to the wrong area. Only after walking through a hallway to the left of the main elevator did my boyfriend and I find another tiny, hidden elevator at the back  of the back of the building that took us to the 3rd floor where the studio is. It’s as confusing as I’m making it sound, so make sure you give yourself about 15 extra minutes just to find the studio once inside the building.

The large sign listing all of the businesses of the labyrinth of a building. This door is near the second, far away elevator that will take you to the 3rd floor of the yoga studio.


Yogaspace is a nice studio to relax and stretch out in after walking the streets of Prague all day. It’s not always easy to find English speaking studios, so to have one right in the center of the city is a luxury. Just remember these two key things: Book in advance and give yourself plenty of time to get there. Read my other post on tips on Prague here.

Help-X Work Exchange – Best Way to Travel

Back in 2011 my boyfriend and I were scratching our heads at a little coffee shop in South Korea as we prepared to leave our teaching jobs there to travel the world and gain experiences on the way. At the cozy little cafe, drinking hot chocolate late at night, I stumbled upon a website that satisfied what we were looking for: Help-X. Since that winter in 2011, we have left Korea (and returned and left again,) and have traveled the world, hitting multiple countries and Help-Xing whenever possible.

 

What Exactly is Help-X?

Help-x stands for Help Exchange and explained simply, is a network of both hosts and helpers who join the website (by paying a nominal fee and creating a profile) and then search for one or the other – host or helper, to begin contact via the network.

For example, my boyfriend and I are helpers, we listed our skills and explained who we are in our profile. Then we searched the network for a host that had what we were looking for: yoga, building, permaculture, heat (just kidding, but no, for real, I need heat in a cold place and hot water is a must,) and dogs are a bonus. To find a host we search by country, depending on where we’ll be and then we start sending out initial contacts. (You can checkout Help-X and have a look around at hosts, but details and contact information can’t be viewed or made without membership.)

 

On the host’s end, they likewise create a profile with photos of their accommodation, land, family, etc. Related websites and Facebook profiles are included so that helpers can learn more. A long or short description of open availability and work expected is listed. Work that is common includes basic gardening, helping with construction, and sometimes even teaching English, or yoga!

Below is a photo of a host’s home in the French Pyrenees where one of my primary tasks was collecting donkey doo, shown in the first photo above. The other two pictures are from a recent Help-x at Re-Green in Greece where I happily upgraded to yoga teaching. *The photo to the right, below showcases a beautiful natural structure at Re-Green, made of a variety of natural building techniques, you might recognize the back wall full of wine bottles. Beautiful. Many hosts and helpers are like-minded in their respect and care for nature and the environment.

So, What’s so Great About Work Exchanges?

  • Exchanges of Ideas & Skills – Whether you’ve never heard of permaculture or spent much time with your fingers in the soil, or you’ve done multiple PDCs (Permaculture Design Courses,) most hosts will take you on and teach you the skills that they require of you. Being that Help-X is part of the sharing economy, just like 150364_731184428877_1273975783_nCouchsurfing or Freecycle, as a helper you are likewise expected to share any skills or ideas that you have, that could be cleaning or helping in the kitchen, construction, or painting. Sharing and learning go hand in hand and it’s a wonderful thing that we can share and learn with each other around the world.

 

 

  • Perfect for Budget Travelers – In general, the arrangement is that in exchange for four, five, or six hours of work per-day for five or six days per-week, your host will provide you with accommodation and meals. To break it down, this means that after paying travel expenses to get to your host you will essentially have zero costs while there. For example, in one of my most recent stays with a host, my boyfriend and I stayed for about two and a half weeks and in that time we spent a total of 25 euro ($28 USD.) That’s not much for two people in two weeks while traveling. Compare that to how much would have been spent on lodging and food while traveling, a huge savings. Yes, we had to earn our keep, but working in the sun for a few hours while gaining skills and making friends isn’t a bad trade-off.
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Not exactly in the sun. My boyfriend and his Help-X friends in France.

  • Learn from Locals – It’s not always easy to get a real feel of a city or region unless you can chew the fat with a local while traveling. You can do just that while Help-Xing. A unique opportunity to ask a native of the area about the state of the region and country: economically, socially, environmentally, etc. It’s common that your host will share meals with you from time to time (or always, hopefully) and may even take you to their favorite local spots for food and drink, or to a cultural outing. In France our hosts took us to a local, ancient church; in Greece we ate at a ridiculously delicious Taverna. Travel memories to last a lifetime.

 

Local food, puppies, yoga, laughs, and sun – I’d say I’ve done a pretty good job of selling Help-X as a way to travel, work, and share. As posted in The Future – What’s Coming Up Page of KaraBemisYoga I am returning for a second Help-X stint at Re-Green in Greece. I loved it so much there that I can’t stay away.

Have you tried your hand at a work exchange or working holiday?

Must Knows Before Visiting Prague

My backpacking trip around Europe brought me to Prague, Czech Republic (or Czechia is it?) for a second visit. My first trip to Prague was back in 2006 to visit my dear friend Angela during her time studying there. It was a quick trip with two other girlfriends; we were guided around the city by Angela to all the must sees and local gems. Since that trip I have always considered Prague to be, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so I wanted to show the picturesque city to my boyfriend.

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View from the clock tower of Prague back in 2006.

On my recent trip to Prague I again hit all the must sees of Old Town and went on a free walking tour that was advertised at our hostel, Advantage Hostel, which is located walking distance to Old Town. Like other tours I’ve done in European cities, the tour is free but it’s expected to give a tip at the end. A great few hours of entertainment for budget backpackers. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the name of the tour company that we went with, but there are a multitude that meet up at Old Town and can be found on TripAdvisor.)

Tomas, our tour guide was Czech and had studied history and anthropology, so an ideal expert on the city. Not only did Tomas give our group of about 15 stories and legends of the city but he also gave a lot of great tips for tourists in general. Tips that I thought were noteworthy enough to write about here, especially since most of them should be know before even landing in Prague. Must Knows that can help you avoid paying too much or getting ripped off, so here they are:

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Must Knows

  • Money Exchange – DON’T EXCHANGE MONEY ON THE STREET. Apparently there are people who offer “good rates” for your currency to get Czech Koruna, but don’t be fooled. The tender that they’ll give you  isn’t real Koruna, but rather bills and coins from another Eastern European country, like currency from Bulgaria. Our tour guide recommended a place that gives good rates. It’s called Exchange and is located just on the outside of Old Town Square near to the Kafka Café, click here for a google maps link.

 

  • Validate Your Tram/Bus/Metro Ticket – It’s quite easy to use public transportation in Prague. Tickets can be bought at most convenience stores or places that sell cigarettes. Tickets range in price from 24 CZK ($1 USD) for a 30 minute ride and up to 310 CZK ($13 USD) for a 3 day pass. Upon entering your chosen form of transportation, you must stamp it in a little machine that puts the date and time on the ticket. If you fail to do so you might have the misfortune of meeting an inspector who checks for stamps and are known to single out tourists (since locals generally use annual transport cards.) The fee for forgetting to stamp your pass is 1,000 CZK ($41 USD,) a big unexpected expense to any traveler.

 

  • Beware of Taxis – They’re known to overcharge. I didn’t need to use one on my recent trip since I walked the entire time I was there, so I don’t know from experience, but again this is another tip from Tomas that I take seriously. I don’t recall exactly how much a taxi may rip you off, but any rip off is worth avoiding. Look for a yellow Taxi light on top of the car and follow other guidelines found here.
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    Nataranjasana in hiking boots in Prague.

    Another good idea is to ask your hostel or hotel to call ahead and book you a reliable taxi.

 

  • Invest in Good Walking Shoes – Prague has retained its historical beauty meaning that the architecture is stunning and there are sites to visit aplenty (plus parks and beer gardens.) Through history those bumpy cobblestone streets have stayed put in the majority of both Old and New Town and they wreak havoc on pedestrians’ feet. No matter which European city (or any city anywhere) you visit it’s an absolute must to invest in a  pair of good walking shoes, be them walking sandals, sneakers, or hiking boots. Cobblestone is no surface to mess around with flip flops or heels in!

 

You’ll be off to a good start keeping these tips in mind when you visit fairy-tale-like Prague. Also remember to drink all the pivo (beer) you can handle and eat some goulash with dumplings. My review of a centrally located Prague yoga studio coming up soon.

 

 

5 Elements, Krakow, Poland – Studio Review

After leaving my course in India my daily self practice sadly dropped significantly, from at least twice a day to only here and there. Backpacking around Europe – getting lost in countries where I can’t even say hello – makes for a chaotic schedule in which my yoga practice has been shuffled around to whenever time can be made. Fortunately, however, while staying at an Airbnb in Krakow, Poland I found an English speaking yoga studio and went for a much needed yin class.

The studio that I found – 5 Elements, is not downtown, but is accessible by public transport (directions linked below) and in my case was a 20 minute walk from my Airbnb.

5 Elements is my kind of yoga studio. Here are the reasons why practicing at 5 Elements was worth the wait.

  • English – When traveling it’s not always easy to find an English speaking studio or class. The finding part is sometimes the most difficult. When I choose a studio in a new, foreign city, I choose it based on it’s website and whether the site is in both the native language and also in English. Obviously I can navigate the site much better if it’s in English as opposed to translating the entire site with google. An English website also implies that the class may be taught in English or some degree of English, a bonus for sure. 5 Elements had both an English website (well designed) and an entirely English taught class.

 

  • Yogic Philosophy – After a thorough read through of the website which included class descriptions, Ayurveda, and a mentioning of yoga and the ego (my kind of philosophy,) I knew that it was a good fit for me, not simply a “workout” place.

 

  • Atmospheric-  I like a studio to have soft lighting 20160427_192521.jpg(bonus points for candle lit studios,) Sanskrit and Hindi gods on the wall, pillows on comfy seats, and incense a-burnin’. 5 Elements ticked all of those boxes. There was even an incense burner located outside the main entrance of the studio – literally outside on the doorstep. It was a welcome, homey feel on a cold and rainy Wednesday night.
    • However! – The studio itself was pretty small and had very blue tinged lighting (LED I think) which isn’t great to practice a night time yin class in in my opinion, but it didn’t take away from a good practice, I’m just making note.

 

  • Props- If you’ve ever taken one of my studio classes at Kaizen, or maybe through reading other posts here, you probably noticed that I am a big supporter of props (pun intended.) During the yin class that I took at 5 Elements we used blocks, straps, and eye pillows – lovely! And necessary to find comfort in those long holds!

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How to Visit 5 Elements

Directions: Like my Airbnb, 5 Elements is not actually in the center of Krakow, but is in a residential suburb. Luckily it was walk-able for me (doubly so since I wasn’t so sure on how to even use public transportation in Krakow) but you can follow this link to get directions.

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Cost: Drop in classes are 35 Polish zloty, but for your first class there’s a special rate of 20 zloty (about $5.) 5 Elements offers an array of different packages that will suit any schedule. They can be found here, which also has the class schedule.

NOTE, Must Book Ahead: As mentioned, the studio practice space is small, which is great for an intimate class, but for this reason you must call ahead to book a spot. The phone numbers to call, both fore English, are listed in the link found directly above.

Kaizen Korea, Busan – Studio Review

There has been plenty of mention in my writings of my good friend and mentor, Mindy Sisco, who has been running the only English language yoga studio in Busan, South Korea since 2012. She works as a team together with co-owner/teacher, Simon Kang. During my two years in Busan I had the good fortune of learning from each of them, practicing an array of classes at Kaizen.

Whether you’ve recently moved to Busan as an English teacher or are visiting a friend for a short time, you should make time in your schedule to get to a yoga class at Kaizen, and here’s why.

NO SMOKE & MIRRORS 

Yoga has a tendency to get frilly-la-la/hippy-tastic, which is nothing bad (I’m sometimes found guilty of drifting into that lotus-flower field,) but don’t expect so at Kaizen. Their yoga classes jump right into the deep end of the physical practice and stay there through the end. There might be some om-ing to end class, but it’s yoga – it’s expected.

THE STUDIO

The same can be said for their studio, which is minimal in nature, but has all the props a prop-aholic like myself could want – blocks, straps, eye pillows, and more blocks. There are cubbies for you to keep your personal items and mats for borrow (ask which are public and which are private first, since some students store their mats there long-term.)

THE TEACHING – They Know Their Stuff!

Mindy & Simon have done their fair shares of trainings and there’s no sign of slowing down. Teaching yoga is what they do, and they are good at it.

12983453_10156683111315567_662446499601727085_oMindy teaches Ashtanga-Vinyasa classes that bring in elements that feel like physical training. It’s never the same old, same old sun salutation warm ups in her class – she switches it up to work different muscles and prep students for what’s to come. As a fellow teacher, I highly appreciate the design details that each class has and I truly learn from classes, instead of just being guided through poses. The sign of a good yoga teacher.

Her teaching style is creative and unique. Students leave having worked their muscles, often in partner exercises which are an extension of the playful and challenging acro yoga classes that Mindy also teaches. If you thought I couldn’t compliment Mindy’s yoga teachings anymore, then you were wrong because her acro classes are an equally fun way to learn more about yoga, yourself, and yourself through yoga. You can read more about my Kaizen acro experiences here and here, oh, and here (I told you I went to a lot of her classes.)

Simon, the other half of Kaizen, has a background in body weight training which comes through in his classes that push students physically, but most importantly safely. Simon’s other trainings (he also teaches jui-jitsu) aid him as a teacher of yoga and therefore benefit the students by giving them a well rounded practice from start to finish.

His Handstands Club class for example, is a four-week series that works on form, Simonalignment, and technique. Rather than just having students hop up into handstand against a wall, Simon works the areas of the body necessary in the advanced pose, and he works on them for the full four weeks. It’s a continuous series, and while the goal isn’t to perform handstand in four weeks, which is very unrealistic, he will get you pointed in the right direction to maybe one day to master the pose.

DIRECTIONS

Take the green line of the subway (Line 2) to stop #212, KSU (short for Kyungsung University) or 경성대학교 in Hangul. Go out Exit 5 and walk straight. Take your first left directly in front of Artbox. Walk two and a half blocks until you see a boutique called Zebra on your left (on the right is a yellow cafe [of course – there are a gazillion cafes in Busan] called Compose Coffee.) Walk into the building entrance which is just left of Zebra, and take the elevator to the 6th floor. There is no sign for Kaizen in the elevator, look for Man to Man Fitness in Hangul on a red sign for the 6th floor, which is what the studio was called before Mindy and Simon took over.

 

COST

Since classes at Kaizen are designed and taught in four week series it is best to buy a month’s pass. You can buy a 4 class pass to cover a specific class, say Simon’s Handstand Club, or you can buy a bigger quantity, or you can get a one-month-unlimited-membership pass which covers all classes. Visit this page for details on pricing. Drop in classes are 20,000 won (roughly $18.)

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Mindy and Simon of Kaizen, Busan.


Disclaimer: The reason that I have not written my Kaizen studio review for so long is because I was a stand in substitute teacher at Kaizen when trainings and workshops took Mindy hopping around the globe. Teaching at Kaizen then became a regular class in my teaching schedule. I felt it unprofessional to review the studio while teaching there, so am writing the review after my Busan departure.