Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Weekend in Portland

I had one little thing on my to-do list during these few months I've been in Canada, and that was visit my friend Sarah in Portland before I left for Japan. We had been talking about this for ages - I first met Sarah in Roatan (she arrived shortly after me) and we were soon neighbors and friends. When she moved back to Portland last year, she left the island and I promised the next time I was in Canada that I would come see her. So I did! I only had a short weekend, so we decided to make the most of it. Here's a recap of my weekend, through the unfiltered lens of my old iPhone:

I flew in and out of Vancouver because I wanted to check something off my bucket list - taking the train down the west coast! I went on the Amtrak Cascades and I absolutely loved it (I did not like having to go to the train station at 5:30am though. This girl does not do mornings well). The seats were roomy, there was free wifi on board once we crossed the US border, there was a dining/coffee car, a lounge car and outlets for everyone. It was a long trip... about eight hours, and you aren't allowed to disembark anywhere until you're at your station. I got up and walked around a few times. But the coastal scenery kept me glued to my seat most of the time - I was SO happy I got a window seat.

Once we finally arrived in Portland, Sarah and her roommate Liza came to get me and obviously first things first in Portland - we had to go EAT! We went straight to Pine Street Market, an indoor market full of hip food stalls that are offshoots of local restaurants. I got Israeli street food from Shalom Y'all and slammed it so fast I didn't even take a picture. Everything we got was fantastic and I felt like things here (and actually everywhere I ate in Portland) were really reasonably priced.

After we filled our bellies we headed out to the Portland International Rose Test Gardens, which was beautiful and smelled amazzzziiinnnnngggg. There were lots of selfies and iPhone rose photos going on here.

From here, we headed up to the Pittock Mansion to take in the beautiful architecture of the building (it was closed, I would have loved to have gone inside!) and the stunning city views from up on the ridge. Liza and Sarah gave me a Portland geography lesson, and then we roamed the grounds.

After this we headed back home and thought about getting ourselves together to go out for food or drinks, but I had a long day and my hosts were tired from paddleboarding in the river all afternoon so we called it a night.

Saturday morning we got up and, as you do in Portland, headed to the farmer's market. I don't have any pictures from this because it was, as it is in Portland, raining. I did snag some macarons to enjoy later. I think I managed to eat about 20 macarons in my weekend there. They were everywhere!

We walked around some really cute little shopping/entertainment districts and browsed around in the stores for a few hours. It was very Portland-y to me. Such quirky, eclectic stuff, and hipsters as far as the eye could see!

I enjoyed it though, and there was so much food. After visiting a saltwater aquarium store that sent me into a tearful homesick depression when I saw the seahorses, butterflyfish and tang I know so well, Sarah took me to what was my favorite meal in Portland - a pork belly rice bowl at Double Dragon.

I don't know why this was so good, but I was over the moon while I was eating it. Curry lime collard greens, savory roasted mushrooms, pickled cucumber and some serious soft-boiled egg yolk porn combined with a generous portion of crispy pork belly and topped off with kimchi - it was just the best flavor and texture combination. I don't think I've ever eaten anything better for $11. I could easily eat this daily. Sarah's bahn mi burger was not too shabby either.

We decided on an unconventional form of entertainment for the evening - a paranormal walking tour of the infamous Portland Shanghai Tunnels. Now, I'm no stranger to tunnel tours. My hometown is famous for them. But this was by far the weirdest tunnel tour I've ever been on.

There was a group of about eight of us and we met in a restaurant courtyard while our guide started telling us about the history of the tunnels in downtown Portland. The lady guiding the tour seemed really nervous, and the way she talked about the guy who has been excavating these things was a little creepy - she sounded like a cult member talking about her leader. Oh well, Portland is weird, right? Then they opened up a street-level gate and we shuffled down into the 'tunnels'.

I'm using the term tunnels loosely, because this tour really only consisted of walking around in the basements of like two or three buildings. There wasn't anything really 'tunnel-like' about it, though due to earthquake-proofing a lot of areas were blocked off for safety or restructuring the building, so maybe there used to be more. Our tour focused on paranormal activity and there is apparently a lot of it down in these basements where back in the late 1800s through the early 1900s crooked dudes would 'Shanghai' unsuspecting drunk bar patrons by dropping them through trapdoors in the bar floor, into the basement, into crude holding cells and then onto huge ships as slave labor. Some guys made it back to Portland and some didn't. The basements had to be excavated out as they were full of rubble and they found some interesting artifacts down there like shoes that had been taken away from prisoners (they had broken glass cemented into the floors around the cells - no shoes = no trying to escape), an opium den, etc.

All in all this tour was okay - it was interesting and I liked hearing the stories about the times of Shanghai-ing. I probably would have gone on a non-paranormal tour if I knew then what I knew now, because I wasn't into the ghost focus at all. Our tour guide was super into it and that's cool, but some of her 'proof' consisted of stopping us for 10 minutes in a small, low, enclosed area and telling us that lots of people on the tours faint there so it must be spirits or something. (Uh, or the fact that you've got all these people breathing/exhaling in a small area for 10 minutes with zero airflow, underground?) Anyway, I'd do it again, it was good for $13 but I'd skip the paranormal one next time. The tour came back above ground and they took us to a shop/museum full of stuff they found down there while excavating and it was cool.

We decided to get some fresh air afterward and took a walk over a huge bridge down to OMSI and peeked in the windows (it was closed). Portland is definitely the city of bridges and the early evening scenery from the bridge was gorgeous.

The next morning was time for me to check off my last two to-do items on the list before leaving: hit up a Trader Joe's (we don't have them in Canada!) and have a classic Scandinavian brunch at Broder Soder. Obviously, it being brunch and all, I had to get the cocktail with the dill vodka in it.

Great success!!

All in all, this was such a fantastic weekend filled with food, solid girl time, craft beer, roaming around and a little bit of weird. It was perfect. Thank you Sarah for showing me your city! I hope I'll be back soon. There was so much more I wanted to see and do - I could spend ages just eating my way through PDX. A good reason to plan another trip!

Have you been to Portland? What should be on my agenda next time?

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The JET Programme: From Pre-departure to Departure

Most of you know by now that I'm headed to Japan to teach English as a participant on the JET Programme. I wrote previously about how this was a long time coming (I first heard about it in 2006!) and a basic breakdown of the timeline. This post will be more detailed, and will probably only be interesting to those of you who found my blog while searching for info about JET, sorry! Please keep in mind while reading that I am a Canadian (Vancouver consulate) JET, and things differ by consulate and country.

So, you are applying to JET, and you've already read my Application to Acceptance post and you're wondering what's next? Well, it's Pre-departure to Departure time! I'm going to talk about the pre-departure activities, packing, what to do before you go, and the farewell reception.

The Vancouver consulate offered a few pre-departure activities and orientation that you're expected to attend. They're not mandatory, though the departure reception the day before you leave is mandatory (and you're gonna want to show up since that's where they give you your passport back). 

There are free beginner Japanese lessons too, which sadly I couldn't take advantage of because I was living in another province at the time. The pre-departure activity weekend was in late June where the Saturday was a pre-departure orientation, and the Sunday was a team-teaching English in Japan seminar. I would really recommend attending these if it's possible for you, as I found them extremely helpful (especially the teaching English seminar). The day before you go there is a farewell reception at the Japanese consul's residence.

Weekend Workshops

These differ by consulate. I heard Montreal had Japanese cooking lessons at theirs, and Toronto had some cool stuff like trying on kimono. We didn't have anything that fun at Vancouver's, though we did get some good info. There were a few icebreakers, presentations by former JETs to get an idea of what it's like teaching at the different school levels (ES, JHS and SHS), and what to prepare for when it's time to leave the program. After lunch we split into smaller workshop groups with former JETs leading discussion groups. I actually found these the least helpful to be honest... it would have maybe been better to just have an open Q + A session or something. They would say scenarios (ex. sexual harassment at school, problems with your apartment, not getting along with your JTE, etc.) and the group would offer ideas on how we would handle it. Maybe it was more helpful for those candidates who were coming straight out of university and who had never had a job before or lived/traveled abroad. It was all pretty common sense stuff to me. To be 100% honest, probably the most helpful thing I got out of this day was the Japanese version of rock, paper, scissors since people use that for everything in Japan, even at schools.

Here's a few photos from that day, courtesy of the JETAABC:
that's me playing jan-ken-po (rock paper scissors) at the front left - from a bikini to a suit! from the bottom to the top now we here...

the full saturday group. i'm at the back right... always at the back

kiritsu! rei! (stand up! bow!)

After the Saturday workshops we headed over to a local pub where the JET Alumni Association put on a reception for us, which was really nice of them. The former JETs all showed up and they played musical chairs and chatted with all of us about their experiences and answered our questions. This was my favorite part of the day. Possibly due to about 10 gin and tonics and some chicken wings but who knows.

The Sunday teaching English seminar was beyond helpful and I felt more confident after attending it. The girl who ran it was a former JET and currently works in education here. She was fantastic - hilarious and knew how to keep us entertained. I learned a ton of stuff this day, and left with lots of ideas for activities and games and lots of nitty gritty real-world advice on what to do if things are going sideways. They also gave us workbooks with lots of easy activities in it in case you get surprised by your JTE at the last minute. We got into groups after lunch and had to present an activity based on a topic which was good to get thinking about stuff like that. My only complaint about this day was that we were told we would receive her PowerPoint by email, which never happened and I didn't take any notes because I thought I was getting it later. And it would have been helpful to receive the workbook and materials via email as well. There is already so much shit to pack for this program and they just keep giving you all these books and papers and then are like BRING THIS ALL TO JAPAN AND OH ALSO BRING ALL YOUR BELONGINGS TOO OH AND MAKE SURE IT'S UNDER 50LBS OR ELSE. Get on the paperless train guys!


There's soooooo many people with very strong opinions on what you should and shouldn't bring to Japan. I made a lot of mistakes with what I packed when I moved to Roatan, so I promised myself I would do better with this move. I brought too much shit. To be fair, it's ridiculously hard to find stuff on Roatan, and you can't mail anything there. But I brought too much shit that I never ended up using and I had to give it away when I left. Too many "just in case" items. Why did I have a money belt!?

What you need to pack will depend on your several factors. If you're going to Hokkaido, you'll need more winter stuff than someone going to Kyushu. If you're teaching ES, you'll probably need more casual clothes than someone teaching SHS. If you're Japanese-sized, you'll probably not need to pack as many clothes and shoes as us giant heifers who wear larger than an XXS or size 6 feet because you can buy clothes and shoes there (you lucky bitches).

Let me make one thing very clear. Japan is a first-world country with a mercantile economy and an efficient mail system. YOU CAN BUY STUFF THERE AND YOU CAN SHIP STUFF THERE. They have shampoo. They have hairspray. They have peanut butter. They have DVDs. They have hair elastics. They have earrings. They have makeup. You don't need to bring a year's supply of that shit. And you know what? If you get there and you can't find Kraft Mac & Cheese and you are somehow going to die without it, you can order it on the internet or have your parents mail you some. Otherwise you might have to find the Japanese equivalent or do a little kanji investigating for stuff, but Japan has all the things we have here and people seem to live just fine with it there. You might find Japanese brands that you like even better, who knows? Be open to trying new things. Disclaimers: women of color, you're gonna have to bring or ship your haircare products and makeup. It will be very difficult to find those things there. Also everyone, yes, bring antiperspirant (they have deodorant but not antiperspirant) and toothpaste if you need fluoride in your toothpaste (Aquafresh there has it but if you like something else, bring it).

For me, I'm planning on staying as long as I can so that affects what I'll bring. I am too big for Japanese clothes and shoes so I packed my two checked suitcases to the brim with clothes and shoes. (After I get to Japan, I'll do a big post with outfits I wear to school - ladies, I know it's hard knowing what to bring as there's no real 'standard'!) There's places in Japan that I could hunt down larger stuff and I'm aware of that, but I have so many clothes here that already fit so why not bring them? I don't need the space to bring Kraft Mac & Cheese. I also am bringing some of my dive gear but not all of it (my BCD was too heavy/bulky). I am bringing the regular makeup I wear daily, travel size toiletries to tide me over till I can get to the store in my hometown there, my electronics (laptop, camera, tablet, iPhone, flash drives, external HD, etc.), my omiyage (maple tea + candy for teachers, Canada keychains + magnets for higher-ups), prizes for the kids (Snowbirds posters + pins, Canada pins + pencils + stickers), realia for my self-introduction (Canada flag and a flash drive of photos of my hometown, family, hobbies, etc.), realia for lessons (a couple magazines, a couple flyers, a take-out menu, a newspaper) and most importantly, my regional ramen poster so that I can check them off as I eat my way through the country...and my Sol Charity 2016 Diving Men of Roatan calendar so my Roatanean boys can keep me company from afar :) 

I am checking two medium sized suitcases with all the stuff listed above in them. I'm also taking a small rollerboard carryon which will house some delicate dive gear, plus all my formal clothing for Tokyo orientation. I'm taking a backpack as my personal item, which will hold all my electronics, dayplanner, passport/ID stuff, etc. When you get the travel info, check carefully what luggage allowances there are... for us going out of Vancouver on Air Canada, we can take one carryon + one personal item, and two checked suitcases of 50lbs each. Anything over that was a ridiculous amount. Extra checked bags were like $225 and overweight bags were $100 and up. It's not worth it for these amounts - if you really need that much stuff (and think hard about if you reallllllly need that much stuff), it's likely cheaper and easier to ship it.

Remember that once you get to Tokyo, you are only allowed to keep your carryons plus one suitcase for Tokyo orientation. You cannot keep both checked suitcases for Tokyo orientation. Anything over one suitcase you'll have to send forward once you land at Narita (it will either go to your CO or your house). Don't be the guy ripping apart his suitcases at Narita and trying to repack them.  If you're bringing two checked suitcases, pack one of them with all your fall/winter stuff and things you won't need your first two weeks in Japan. It shouldn't take two weeks, but better to be prepared. That's the one you'll want to send forward. Better yet, if you can fit all the stuff you need for Tokyo orientation in your carryon + personal item... send BOTH suitcases forward and they'll be waiting for you when you get to your hometown. It will be way easier for the travel to your hometown, plus remember that domestic flights within Japan have lower luggage allowances and weight restrictions than your international flight had.

What to Do Before You Go

You'll hear people saying "oh don't worry about anything just spend time with your family and friends and eat all your favorite food ok see u soon in japannnnnn". Those are good ideas too, but there's a few things you might want to do before you go. This is what I'm doing:

1. Get your paperwork in order.

Get your mail redirected or better yet, go paperless. Get a copy of your driver's abstract so that you have it when it's time to get your Japanese license. Get your International Drivers Permit. Get notarized copies of your passport and ID and leave one set with someone you trust at home, and take the other set with you (keep in a separate location from originals). Get 8-10 passport photos, you always seem to need these for stuff so might as well have them handy. Get any bill payments you'll need to make from Japan set up somehow so you can pay them without being in the country. Consider designating a power of attorney for banking/tax matters.

2. Get some super cute stuff made.

I got a custom ink stamp (not an affiliate link) made that says "Great job! From Rika" with a cartoon seahorse on it so that I can stamp kids' work with it. I got business cards made for Tokyo orientation!

The blurry bit (internet privacy and all, guys) is my name, my FB and LINE info, my email, and the city I'm in. These beauty cards are from my fave, Moo Printing, and if you want to get some made you can use my Moo referral link with no extra cost to you (full disclosure: you get 10% off your order, and I get an $8.25 credit...we both win!)

3. Take some photos.

I have heard this over and over from JETs... they wished they had taken more photos of their families, local food, festivals, their hometown, the inside of grocery stores, etc. before they came because the kids are really interested in this kind of stuff.  I had to re-do the only recent family photo I had because I was wearing a tiny tube top dress in it and my brother was holding a beer, and it wouldn't have been appropriate to show my students that. Take a million pics, save it on a flash drive.

Farewell Reception

Again, this differs by consulate. We're having ours as a garden party at the fancy shmancy consul general of Japan's residence, which is apparently super swanky and I will probably take some James Bond photos inside the house if I can. This is where they are giving us our passports back with our Japanese visas in them, so this one is mandatory. I don't know what else goes on at this, I think it's mostly just a "bye see ya don't get arrested for drugs cause we won't help you type of thing" and then I guess they tell us what time to be at the airport the next morning. It's just a few hours and then that's it.

Dudes, I'm ready to go. JAPAN HERE I COME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The JET Programme: From Application to Acceptance

Most of you know by now that I'm headed to Japan to teach English as a participant on the JET Programme. I wrote previously about how this was a long time coming (I first heard about it in 2006!) and a basic breakdown of the timeline. This post will be more detailed, and will probably only be interesting to those of you who found my blog while searching for info about JET, sorry! Please keep in mind while reading that I am a Canadian (Vancouver consulate) JET, and things differ by consulate and country.

The Application
Timeline: November 30

The application process took a long time to get everything together. I applied from Roatan, which made things extra-tricky since there is no functioning or trustworthy mail service there. I had to have my application ready a month early so that I could have tourists take it back to Canada for me, mail it to my mom (she had some other documents that needed to be included), and then my mom couriered it to the Japanese consulate for me.

I had to order transcripts from both my post-secondary schools online and had them delivered to my mom. I wrote my Statement of Purpose (SoP) in Roatan, filled out the application form, and got two local references to write reference letters for me. They were both work-related references, because I haven't been in university for 8 years so there was no way I could get one from a professor. I lost my degree years ago, so I had my university send a letter of confirmation of degree, which was supposed to function as the same thing as a degree. Well, my coordinator told me that the letter was sufficient for application purposes but if I got in I would have to provide a photocopy of the physical degree (so yeah, I ended up having to shell out $75 later on to get a reprint).

If you want to read my SoP, you can email me and I'll send it to you. I'm not going to post it on the internet cause that's weird and it's my personal info! I wrote a first draft and some lovely people in one of the Aspiring JETs groups on Facebook offered to read over and provide feedback on it, so I did. I sent it to three people who offered to read SoPs, and only one actually did it. I'm really grateful to her because she provided excellent feedback and a good direction to tweak it. When someone offers to read over your SoP, take them up on the offer. Get as many current or past JETs as you can to read it and offer advice so you can draw from all the feedback. Be prepared to take constructive criticism. If you can't take constructive criticism at this stage in the game, you're gonna struggle in this program.

The SoP was hard for me, because everyone tells you to write about "Why Japan?" (ie. over Taiwan, or Korea, or Ecuador) and "Why JET?" (ie. over AEON or NOVA) and I didn't feel like I could accurately put my answers to those questions into words. I tried to focus on a few things in my SoP: 
  1.  My international experience living and working abroad, and traveling. I really focused on the fact that I had successfully been living and working in Honduras for four years on an island with limited resources and language barriers, to show that I was capable of doing the same in Japan. I also talked about my interaction with local friends and staff. I made a big deal of this stuff (without bragging) because I didn't have a whole lot of kid-interaction experience.
  2. My work experience as a whole - being 30 at the time of application made me older than most JETs, but it also was a bonus that I already had many years of professional real-world job experience behind me.
  3. My passion for teaching in a non-traditional teaching path. I talked about teaching scuba diving, and volunteer ESL tutoring. I talked about my eagerness to learn more in this area and backed it up by being enrolled in an online TESOL certification course.
  4. My interest in Japan, without being a weebo or otaku. It's fine to mention anime as something that sparked your interest in Japanese culture, but if that's the only reason you want to go to Japan then you better keep it quiet in your SoP. I talked about my Japanese roommates during university and the cultural exchange I had with them, my trip to Japan in 2009 that furthered my interest in the country, the beginner Japanese course I took in university, and the Japanese cooking classes that I took and hoped to continue learning more about once in Japan. I didn't go overboard on this section though. They don't care if you're a Japan expert, and it's probably better if you're not. The cultural exchange is supposed to be going both ways.
  5. I tried to really make it clear the benefit that Japan would get from having me (without sounding too conceited, haha) rather than the other way around. Never forget that this is a JOB. The application is part of your job interview. This program is not about what it can give you in Japan. It's about what you can give to Japan.
When I finally sent the package off, it was time to hurry up and wait. Get used to waiting if you're applying to this program. It's literally nothing but waiting for like a year.

If you're trying to decide what to do to make your application stronger, I recommend getting as much traveling/living abroad experience as you can to show you can hack it. If that's not possible, maybe volunteering with a newcomer organization or an international organization at your school. Try to get some experience with kids, whether it's ESL volunteering, coaching sports, or tutoring after school. Make sure you have some kind of professional work or volunteer experience you can talk about. They want to know that you know how to behave in professional settings. For your reference letters, you may need to steer your references. Make sure they hit points like: professionalism and punctuality, ability to follow directions, ability to successfully interact or give instructions to people of all ages and backgrounds, adaptability and flexibility, etc. One of my references wrote me a glowing letter, and attached one page of TripAdvisor reviews from her business she had screenshotted that specifically mentioned me by name.

The Interview
Timeline: interview notification January 20, interview date February 12

Yes, you need a suit. By a suit I mean formal business attire. Ladies, yes, you can wear a blazer with dress pants or a (knee-length) dress skirt and a blouse, or a collared dress shirt. It's a job interview, for fucks sake people, and it's not an interview with a IT start-up, a fashion line or a graphic design company. You're trying to be hired as a Japanese civil servant. This is a government position and they dress extremely conservatively at work in Japan. Dress appropriately. If you don't get the job, you can use the outfit for another interview. If you do get the job, you're gonna need two suits anyway. So just get it. I wore a $79 Zara blazer with $19 dress pants from Winners, a $14 button-up collared dress shirt from Winners, and $26 low black heels from Payless. The whole outfit cost me $138. If you can't afford this, you're gonna be in trouble because this program is going to cost you a lot more than $138 if you get in. (See end of post for more.)

My interview was a breeze. I had a panel of three former JETs interviewing me, and when I talked to other applicants later everyone agreed they were all super nice and seemed to be rooting for us. I was only a bit nervous, mostly that I would be asked to stand up and do a demo lesson which is something I had never done before.  I knew I had an upper hand on most applicants here - I have had TONS of job interviews because of my age. I've been working since I was 16, and I was nearly 31 when I interviewed. Most applicants are fresh out of university and many have never had a job before. I'm a pretty confident and outgoing person and I can read social cues well, so I wasn't worried. I had read a few blogs and websites about preparing for JET interviews, which was good because I did get a few of the standard questions that everyone gets. Be ready for "Why Japan" and "Why JET" again. The only question they asked me that tripped me up a bit was "What would you do if you were drowning in work with very little free time, and another JET in your town barely had to do any work and had tons of free time? Or the other way around?" I wasn't sure what they were getting at with it, but I said I was the one with free time I'd see if I could help out the other JET a bit, and if I was the busy JET I would suck it up if it was all job-related work.

A lot of the questions they asked me ended up going back to the same answer... there were lots that I could tell were trying to see how you would handle culture shock. We all ended up laughing because the answer to most of them was "well I've been living on a small island in a third world country with limited resources for four years and I'm doing fine". I didn't have to do a mock lesson but they did ask me what I would do to teach a low-level class about colors. I made some stuff up on the spot, but made sure to talk about different reading, writing and speaking activities, getting the kids involved and active, and using the JTE to team-teach. Watch some YouTube videos of team teaching in Japan if you want to see how some people are doing it. You can get an idea of lesson activities that way too, or Google some beginner ESL lesson plans and look at the activities. They asked if I could say "My name is Rika" in Japanese (I had indicated I had zero-low beginner ability on my application) which I did and then they went on to other stuff. If you indicate any higher Japanese ability, be prepared to answer a few questions in Japanese.

At the end they'll give you an opportunity to ask them questions. There's a whole debate about what the best thing to ask is. I don't know what it is. I asked them if there was anything they wished they had prepared before departure knowing what they know now. I also asked one of the girls how she communicated with her JTE (she had mentioned she spoke no Japanese and had a JTE that couldn't speak English - yes, the English teacher - Japan, the land of irony).

At the end of the day, the interview is not really about the answers you give. They're more interested in seeing if you can think quickly on your feet, are enthusiastic, not shy, can speak English clearly and are not a total fuckwad. If you get tripped up when you're talking, stop for a second, think, and keep going. They're looking for people who aren't going to crumble and hide if they make a mistake or aren't sure what to do. Put on your genki smile and just keep talking!

The Results
Timeline: April 4

Bet you can guess what you do after your interview... yep... you get to wait again. For another six weeks or so.

I got the email saying I had been shortlisted (which means you got in - otherwise you're an alternate, who gets bumped up if a shortlister drops out, or you're rejected) while I was in the back of a taxi on Roatan with 2% battery on my phone. I remember opening it up on my phone with shaking fingers. I had been in limbo for so many months and just wanted to know if I got in or not so I could get on with my life.
"It is our great pleasure to inform you that you have successfully passed the 2nd stage of the screening process for the 2016 Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme year and are now on the final short-list for ALT candidates. You are now scheduled for placement with a Contracting Organization, which is possible in almost all cases."
That poor taxi driver. I let out a whoop and began to cry right in the back of his taxi. I was all alone and he was worried he had a gringa loca in the back of his car. I tried to calm him down in broken Spanish as I frantically called my mom through Skype and Whatsapp with my dying battery - at 1% she finally answered and all I could choke out was, "I got in...I GOT IN! I'M GOING TO JAPAN!" and she said congratulations before my phone died. I couldn't get home fast enough to get online and tell everyone the news. I was so happy and proud that I finally achieved this dream, 10 long years after I first wanted it.

I came back to Canada mid-April and the first things I had to do were go straight to the RCMP to get my criminal record and vulnerable sector checks ($70) and order a new copy of my degree since I lost my original ($75). The deadlines for these and other documents varied between June and July. I don't think I would have been able to get it done in time from abroad, and trying to order my criminal record check from abroad would have been a nightmare and taken months. Don't do it! Make sure you can be in your home country to get your checks done.

The Placement
Timeline: May 19

I received the email notifying me of my placement while I was sitting at a Milestones in Saskatoon having lunch with my mom. I was so fucking sick of everyone asking me where I was going in Japan and having to explain over and over that I didn't know yet. When the email finally came, I was too scared to open it and my mom had to encourage me. I had asked for placements in Hokkaido and Tohoku, which are basically the northern half of Japan. I was in the Caribbean at the time when I requested them, and I was sick of sweating.

I opened the email from my consulate and read the first line.

"We have been informed that your placement on the JET Programme will be in Naruto-shi, Tokushima-ken."

I looked up at my mom and looked down again. She waited with an expectant grin. I read it out loud and she cheers-ed me and asked where it was... and I had to answer with, "I don't have a fucking clue!"

I started furiously Googling and it took me a while to find the information (these are the breaks when a popular anime character has the same name as your town). When I finally realized I was in a town of 60,000 in southern Japan, on Shikoku no less (which is famous for a lot of great things but also for being very rural and inconvenient to travel from) I felt my confidence waver a bit. I knew zero about Shikoku. I had been picturing myself in a semi-rural northern town, jumping on trains on the weekend to other parts of the country and exploring. You can't even take a train off Shikoku to the main island Honshu.

However, I hadn't worked this hard for this position for nothing. I kept Googling. I found out that my town is on the farthest north east corner of the island, which means it has a fairly temperate climate. The summers are hot, yeah, and that sucks, but the winters are mild and rainy (which I love). It was right on the ocean (always a requirement for me to enjoy living somewhere). There was a big city and an airport less than 40 minutes away (yay). The JET apartments were near a train station (convenient). There was scuba diving and surfing on the southern part of the island (what! YES!). There was a massive dance festival happening right after I got there, and my prefecture had its own style of famous ramen (RAMEN!!!!!!) The more I started reading, the more it felt like JET had picked a better location for me than I had picked for myself. Once I talked to my pred and the current JETs there (see below) it got even better.

Here's the thing - most JETs don't get their requests. So go in knowing that. Most JETs are in semi-rural or rural areas. So go in knowing that. Some placements might seem crappy at first glance, but the more you learn about it, it usually turns out to have some really awesome perks. If you are the guy who gets the infamous Ogasawara placement, you are one lucky son of a bitch. I know no one wants this placement but I think it looks AMAZING. It's the frickin Galapagos of the Orient! How could you not want to live there and explore that area?! If I could apply to JET again, I would request it. (If you are the JET in that placement, I'll be looking for you at TO! I want to come visit you! Please message me!)

Anyway, the main point I want to make here is this: if you can't handle any of the placements in Japan - and I do mean any of them - do not apply to JET. This is the wrong program for you. You have no control over where you'll be placed, and if you are going to get shitty with what you get and not make the most of it, you have the wrong character for this. I suggest trying to get a job with private eikawa where you can pick your location.

The First Contact
Timeline: May 29 (supervisor/CO), June 2 (leaving/current JETs), June 19 (predecessor)

I got the first email from my supervisor 10 days after receiving my placement, but by then I was expecting it because I was already talking to the other JETs in my town. Once I got my placement, I immediately got on the ol' Facebook and found my prefecture and block groups, and lots of other special interest JET groups. I reached out on those and on the JET Programme subreddit, and found the other JETs going to Naruto with me as well as the current JETs there right now (plus some other cool people around the island!). Everyone told me how lucky I was to get the Naruto placement as the BoE is nice, the holidays are generous, and the people are awesome.

The current JETs didn't know who was whose predecessor because we had a new situation this year where three out of the current six JETs were leaving, but four new JETs were coming in. So there was an 'extra' JET who was going to have to live in a different apartment (our Board of Education owns a 6-plex apartment where the JETs live). All six of them got together and wrote the four of us a welcome letter on June 2 that included tons of helpful info about our housing, pay, holidays, BoE, supervisors, and the town. It was incredibly sweet and had lots of useful info - by the time my contract and other documents arrived by mail from my supervisor, there were no real surprises. On June 19, I heard from my apartment predecessor. I'll be taking her apartment, but they are re-dividing the schools among the seven JETs once we get there, so no one really knows who has which schools yet. But she did send me an email with photos of the apartment I'll be moving into and offering some household stuff and her car to buy. All the JETs in our city have been so kind and great about answering our questions (and we've had a lot!). I think they remember what it's like to be new and really feel like you have no info about anything. It's hard to know what kind of clothes to bring and how much money you'll need straight away and stuff like that if you can't talk to your pred.

I was very lucky that I had contact so early. By June 4, I had received my welcome package in the mail from my CO which included my contract, a welcome letter, an AJET block welcome letter, and a Tokushima tourist guide. Some people (especially prefectural ALTs, I'm a municipal ALT) don't hear from anyone until a week before departure! I would lose my mind. But again, in JET, every situation is different (get ready to hear that three million times) and no two JETs  have the exact same situation. You have to be ready to roll with the punches and be ready for anything. Things will be thrown at you at the last minute all the time in Japan so maybe they're just trying to get us ready for that by leaving all the info to the last minute, I don't know.

Here's something no one tells you but they should: this program is going to cost you a lot of money before you make any, so start saving right from the day applications open. From ordering transcripts, to courier fees, to buying a suit...all just for the application and interview. If you get the job, you'll need to have appropriate teaching clothes, a few days of formal wear, bring certain items you can't get in Japan, pay for criminal record checks, and oh, by the way, you're expected to show up in Japan with AT LEAST $2000-2500 USD to get started with rent, phone, utilities, buying stuff for your apartment either off your predecessor or from the store, groceries, transit, possibly paying for transportation to your placement from Tokyo before reimbursement from work, etc. in your first month before you get paid. Oh, your placement requires a car? You better have another $800-3000 with you. Oh, you don't have a predecessor's apartment to move into? Get another couple thousand dollars for key money. Oh, you're one of the new Tokyo JETs? Best of luck, and get a bank loan before you come. Remember when I moved back to Canada in April and I've been living back at my parents' house all summer? Yeah, that's why. I needed to save money!!

Okay, wow, that was long. But then again, it was a long eight months. In the next JET post I'll be going over pre-departure orientation, packing, and the departure reception. If you're an aspiring JET reading this, let me know if this was helpful and also feel free to leave any questions in the comments below, I always answer all of them!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

{GIVEAWAY} - Personal Planner: Power to the Pen and Paper People

(Pretty proud of that most excellent title alliteration, BTW.)

It's that time of year again guys. You know what's up.  Personal Planner [ Facebook / Twitter / Insta ] time!! I've partnered with this amazing company in 2013, 2014, 2015 and again this year to bring you something near and dear to my OCD heart - my favorite dayplanner. I'm an old school pen + paper girl. I tried using my iPhone synced to my Google calendar for a year but the syncing kept messing up and I missed things I forgot to set reminders for, so I gave up and went back to the old school way of keeping an agenda. I love it and it keeps me on track.

One thing I really like about Personal Planner is that you can input important anniversaries and birthdays, and it prints them right into the planner. I put them all in the first year, and now each year I just log into my account and there they are. Soooo convenient! They also offer notebooks, for those commitment-phobes, and wall planners for those who like to live large (these are great for families or offices, because you can keep track of people on the top column). Gift cards are also available, and I think this is the perfect gift for the person who has everything. Just get them a gift card, and they can make theirs exactly the way they like it!

Personal Planner lets you customize your dayplanner in all kinds of ways, and they just keep adding more and more every year. Last year brought monthly overviews and an adult coloring book in the back. This year, there's even more choices in the graphics, a full-size ruler, new stickers, and erasable pens! I got to try out some of the Frixion by Pilot pens, and I loved them. They don't bleed through the paper to the other side, they don't smudge, and they really do erase (by friction with the ball on top of the pen... friction... Frixion.. get it!). I have been scribbling stuff just to erase it!

Here's a few screenshots of the customization process while I was making my planner. You can see in each section the choices you get to make!

My beautiful planner arrived in the mail today and I couldn't be happier with it. Here's a few photos of my creation come to life:

Longtime readers may notice a trend with my personalized photo covers (you can also choose from their graphics if you don't want to use a photo - every year I'm tempted because they've got some really badass stuff, but I end up with a photo because I'm a narcissist). I specifically choose photos that I want to be the theme for that year. Past years include Roatan beaches, me scuba diving, Vancouver forests, sushi, etc. You can see for my 2017 planner that my theme is JAPAN! The front cover is the famous bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto, and the back cover is my favorite Japanese food...ramen! I also chose a fun back section with the adult coloring book (there's a mermaid one this year!) and world maps.

The super cool folks at Personal Planner are helping me share the love so you can get your hands on one of these customized beauties as well. If you just can't wait and need one ASAP (can't blame you - get it before back-to-school is upon us!), Personal Planner is offering a discount code to Cubicle Throwdown readers for 15% off your order (this code will expire on July 28, 2016), so if you want to order now, use discount code R-IKAS-PLAN (hehe, get it?). They are also giving away one free personalized planner - any size with any customization, including shipping - to one of my readers!

Giveaway rules: to enter, please 'Like' the Personal Planner Facebook page (and you should probably 'Like' the Cubicle Throwdown one too while you're over there), and/or follow them on Instagram (they have the most amazing ideas on their feed). Leave me a comment below telling me that you've done it, and your best 'If I Would Have Had A Dayplanner _________ Would Not Have Happened' story. I have been getting a kick out of reading these stories every year. If you already wrote a story last year, or you reallllly don't have a story, tell me a joke instead! [Please make sure you use a valid email address that you actually check for Disqus when leaving your comment, or I won't be able to contact you if you win.] Previous winners - sorry, but the giveaway is only for those who haven't won before. But you can use the discount code!

Giveaway will close on JULY 27, 2016 and the winner will be notified by email! If you don't win, you'll have one extra day to use the discount code above before it expires. Good luck!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Should You Do a Cubicle Throwdown Like I Did?

Guys, I see you.

I see you landing on my site after Googling, "how to move to Roatan". "How to move to another country". "How to work as a dive instructor in another country". "How much do divemasters make". (That one is easy. Not much.)

I feel ya dudes. I did those Googles too. And about 755,000 more.

I know what it's like to look around your office and see people who have been there longer than you, and thinking, "is this all I have to look forward to in my life?" I know what it's like to be in a soul-sucking job that you struggle to get through every. single. day. Living for the weekends and your measly two weeks of vacation. It fucking sucks, and I know that. I lived in one of the most expensive cities in the world (this post has almost the exact breakdown of my expenses there, sit down before reading), and I could barely afford to take my shitty two weeks of vacation, never mind saving for a home, emergencies, a car, retirement, etc. And I was working as a paralegal, guys - I had a well-paying job!

I get so many emails from my readers who find my site and write me to tell me they are inspired (blushing!!) and want to leave their job and do their own cubicle throwdown, whether it's diving-related or some other passion they want to pursue (some of them are eager to follow my exact footsteps on Roatan and have successfully done so - love ya Lauren!!). I remember that eager feeling and it comes blasting through in their emails and I love it.

They tell me all about their jobs, their lives, and what they are hoping to break free from. They confide their hopes and dreams to me, and lay out their fears or things they think might hold them back. And after they do all that, they drop the bomb.

"So, do you think I should do it?"


I get to this part of the their email, and every single time my heart drops. I instantly feel pressure mounting. What if I give them the wrong piece of advice and they blame me? What if, after reading about their life/situation, I actually don't think a cubicle throwdown is a great idea for them? Or what if I send them off on their merry way and they hate their new life? I can help you with questions like "which dive shop on Roatan should I do my divemaster training at?"...but I can't help you with whether or not you should do it.

(Yeah, I know these are adults and they're responsible for their own lives and blah blah blah. But I feel a sense of responsibility when they are reaching out to me for help.)

So - here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna write out HOW and WHY my throwdown worked for me (and what DIDN'T work) and what I've learned so far through my own, and watching hundreds of others do it on Roatan. You can read it over and decide how to apply it to your situation. And then you're gonna have to think long and hard, and be honest with yourself, and decide if that's something you want to do. At the end of the day, this kind of decision isn't something that someone else can make for you. I don't know you! (As much as I would love to get to know you all!) I don't know the intricacies of your soul, your personal quirks, and your levels of adaptability and flexibility (PS. those levels need to be 100% if you're considering this kind of leap). You might not either, until you test them out yourself. Your job is to gather information rather than advice, apply that information to yourself, and then make your decision.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, the longest, most detailed and most personal post I've ever written:

 1) You will need money. Probably a lot.

You really need to research this field long before your departure date. When I decided to move to Roatan, I had to budget how much money I would need to do all my dive courses, buy a full set of dive gear, buy a scooter, live for the three months during my dive training with no work, and a 4-month cushion of living expenses in case I couldn't find work right away. You can read the 2012 archives of my blog if you want to hear about me riding the struggle bus trying to come up with all this money while I was still working and living in Vancouver, which wasn't cheap. I ended up having to sell tons of my belongings, my car, and worked two full time jobs for six months to save the money. I needed around $14,000 for everything. That's a ton of money! But I figured it out, worked hard, saved it, and I had a (financially) stress-free first six months on Roatan, because I had planned properly for it.

Figure out what you want to do where you're going, and find out how much money you will need for it. Don't cheap out, because you could shoot yourself in the foot with that down the line if things don't go as planned. Always have a cushion!

2) You will need a plan with a timeline, but let it be subject to change.

Are you wanting to leave forever? Do you have a year's sabbatical? Do you just need a break for a couple months?

You also need to consider how long you're allowed to stay wherever you are going. If you're not working and you're on a tourist visa, those aren't indefinite! You'll need to factor in the cost of visa runs or heading somewhere new every time your visa runs out.

Think about realistically how long you want to go for and plan appropriately. Things like being a dive instructor are usually not a 'for the rest of my life' plan, even if you really love it. It's hard on your body physically, and the pay is terrible. Do you really think you're going to work on a Caribbean island as a divemaster from age 21 until your retirement? Can you even save money for retirement that way? Maybe you want to gain some working experience and move into owning a dive shop, or becoming a course director. Or maybe you just want to have fun for a few years. Plan out your timeline. I knew I wasn't going to stay in Roatan for the rest of my life, and I planned my time there as 'a few years', ie. less than five. It worked out that I was ready to leave after four, which was perfect. I seem to move every four years to do something new, so this was in line with my timeline and what I usually did in my life. I'm sure yours will be different, but the way you prepare and plan for before, during and after your throwdown will be determined by your timeline.

3) You will need to deal with your shit at home before you leave.

When you ask an expat on Roatan what their #1 piece of advice is for someone wanting to move there, it's "Don't sell the farm!!!" Everyone recommends living on the island for a year first before buying a house or committing to starting or buying a business. You would probably be surprised how many new expats with stars in their eyes end up going home, defeated, before that first year is even up. That's ok - it happens sometimes. But if you sold everything you had in your home country and cut all your ties and you end up back there in six months, that's a lot to start over again.

Before you leave, you'll need to think of things like: what are you going to do with your home or car, if you haven't already sold them? What are you going to do with your belongings - are you taking up room in your mom's basement for something that was supposed to be temporary? How can you get your dog from your friend's place to your new home? How long should you pre-pay your storage unit? Where are you going to get your mail sent if you live on an island like Roatan with no mail service?

The nitty gritty is boring, but it needs to be dealt with prior to takeoff.

4) You will need to research and research and research.

Public service announcement: Do not move somewhere because you went on a cruise there one time and liked it. Do not move somewhere because you vacationed at an all-inclusive resort there for a week and never left the resort but it was, like, soooo awesome. Jesus, people. I saw tourists doing this on Roatan all the time. Are you fucking crazy?

North Americans, gonna chat with you for a second here. Just because you want to live and work somewhere doesn't necessarily mean they want you. You are not entitled to a job in a destination just because you want to live there. You need to look into work permits, residency, etc. and figure out a way to do things legally. Even if you are in a place where everyone works under the table, first - are you prepared to be deported or face fines if you're caught? and second - it's a fucking slap in the face to the citizens of that country. (And if you're an American who talks badly about illegal immigrants working in your country and then you turn around and do exactly that in another country... I can't even start with you.) You better hope you're somewhere with chill people and you don't make any enemies if you're going that route. In Roatan there were locals constantly talking shit about the gringos working illegally and threatening to call immigration on people they didn't like - and sometimes they did it. I can personally attest that an islander called it on me, and it was not a fun experience (told you guys I had some good stories for you once I was out of there!). I smartened up after that, bit the bullet and got my residency so I was working legally and no one could say anything to me about it any more, but it cost me thousands of dollars and took a long time. You need to think about if you really want to put that much money and effort into something that allows you to make next to nothing and live in a third world country. Is it worth it? For some people yes, some people no.

5) You will need to honestly assess yourself.

Can you handle it? Do you have other experience living abroad? Can you be away from your family and friends without being a homesick mess? Can you deal with missing out on babies being born, funerals, weddings, etc.? Are you okay with the fact that your friends lives will go on without you there, and some will drift away? Can you speak the language? Can you handle living somewhere where you don't speak the language? Are you flexible? Are you moving somewhere else expecting it to be just like your home and are you going to complain in every situation when it's not? BE HONEST with yourself. Too many people overestimate their ability to adapt and be flexible, and their level of patience with things different from their norm.

I have seen too many gringos screaming at incompetent bank employees on Roatan - yes, it's terrible customer service, the line ups are shameful, the rules change every day, and it's the most frustrating thing in the world. But they employees do not give two flying fucks. They just don't. And screaming at them isn't going to make you any friends there. Vent with your expat friends every once in a while, sure.... but you're a guest in that country no matter how long you've lived there, and you need to respect the fact that it ISN'T your home country and they're not going to do things the way you're used to (even if it would be five million times more efficient for everyone if they did). Some people on Roatan complain non-stop about everything... if literally everything is actually that terrible and frustrating for you, it might be time to check out.

6) You will need to think about your main goal and check it it frequently.

Is it retiring somewhere hot? Is it becoming a dive instructor and working as one? Is it taking a time out or a sabbatical for a year? Is it running a business in paradise (hint: 99.9% of the time, not as great as it sounds)? Is it traveling non-stop for six months? Is it volunteering at an NGO?

Once you figure out what it is, make sure you check in with yourself frequently once you get there to make sure you stay on track with whatever it is you wanted to do. Make sure you know your 'next steps' to keep progressing. Don't get stuck just because everyone around you is stuck. If your goal has changed, change your 'next steps' as well.

7) You will need a backup plan.

I lost track of how many people I met on Roatan who came down on vacation, went home and sold their homes, businesses, etc. and moved down there to open a bar on the beach. Once they got to Roatan, they realized how fucking difficult it is to successfully run a business there, and that being a business owner usually means you've got your hands dirty 24 hours a day. You normally do not spend your days drinking mai tais on the beach while your staff run things. There are very few businesses on Roatan where the staff can successfully run things without the owner's constant supervision. (Also, we don't drink mai tais on Roatan, FYI.)

So you didn't listen to me, or everyone else who told you not to sell the farm just yet and to rent/live on the island for a year before committing to buying a home or a business. And now you've failed, you're stressed, and you're in the hole financially. Did you make a backup plan? Don't assume your original idea is going to work, and make sure you have a backup to either make something else work there, or have a plan to move back or move on. Plan for the worst-case scenario, and then anything that happens better than that is a bonus.

When I realized I wasn't making enough money as a dive instructor, I took a job managing a hotel for a season. I barely got to dive and my job was stressful, but I learned a ton of new skills, made amazing networking connections, and I now know that in my future, I would like to run a hotel again (not that one though, haha). I would have never done or known any of that without going to Plan B, and I'm glad I had one, otherwise I would have had to leave before I was ready.

8) You will need to know when to make a change.

Don't be the bitter old lady at the bar who stayed just because she came.

Just because you spent a lot of time and money making your jump doesn't mean you need to stick with it if it's not working for you. Going home doesn't mean giving up. And giving up doesn't mean going home - maybe it means it's time for the next place or the next thing. When I just wasn't diggin it in Roatan anymore, I knew it was time to do something else. I don't know if it will be forever or for a while, but I knew I had to change it up before I got shitty about it. So I'm headed to Japan now. Who knows if I'll be on the island again? I might or I might not, but in the meantime, I'm moving on  because I knew it was time.

9) You will need to really, really think things through if you've got "extras".

Extras are all the things I didn't have when I did mine, so if you have them, I can't give you advice on that because I don't know. When I left to pursue this, I didn't have a boyfriend, kids, a dog, a car, a student loan, a mortgage and a house, child support payments, ailing parents, etc. It's certainly possible to do a cubicle throwdown with some of these things, but I don't know how to do it because I didn't have any of them. You might have to structure your throwdown differently, or have a finite timeline for it if you need to come back and deal with things after taking a break. You might need to figure out how to bring kids or a cat along with you.

Any extras are going to bring a layer of complication - you will need to figure out if this is something you can deal with or not. If not, it's not the end of the line. Think outside the box. Maybe you don't travel non-stop for a year, but pick two or three places to settle in long-term. Maybe Europe is not the best destination if you have large debt payments to make - maybe you look into cheaper places like SE Asia. Maybe you need to spend an extra six months working at home before leaving so that you can afford to live in a more expensive but child-friendly community in your chosen expat home, or to fly your dog with you. There is a solution to nearly everything, but you are probably going to have to compromise in some way or another.

10) You will need to look in your heart and see if you're running toward something or running away.

One of the best quotes I ever heard when I was struggling on Roatan was, "Everywhere you go, there you are".  You can't run away from yourself, and if you're actually the source of the problems in your life, they will follow you even if your circumstances change. I had the same problems on Roatan with my friends and my relationships that I had in Vancouver, because even though my life was different, I was the same person. While I got better at waiting in line ups, had a different job, lived in a different style of home, and had new surroundings... I was still a sarcastic bitch who let shitty people into my life way too easily and let them stay there. I had terrible relationships with the same kind of men that I had before, although they had different nationalities and backgrounds. I had a whole new host of vices to get into that were not good for me, though they were different from the ones I had in Vancouver. Even though I was a dive instructor or a hotel GM instead of a paralegal, I still tended to overwork myself, never said no, and took on more than my job description and then got frustrated and stressed when I wasn't promoted, recognized, or compensated fairly for it. These are the exact same problems I had in my life before Roatan, just with a different cast of characters - because I was still me and hadn't changed anything about myself. Everywhere you go, there you are.

I saw this constantly on Roatan, this is not a unique problem to me. Everyone has a story - a foreclosed house, a failed marriage, a bankrupt business, a criminal record - and they think running away from their location to a new one will solve all their problems and they will finally be happy. Well I have news for you folks, and take it from the horse's mouth - happiness does not magically exist in a place. It doesn't live in a new job, a new girlfriend or a beach view from your bedroom. While these things can give you moments of joy, they can't change your personality and soul for you - that's your job to do, and no person, place or thing can do that work for you. Now, it might be easier to work on your happiness with a beach view, I can't argue with that. But the view will not change your life for you, that's up to you. Don't show up somewhere with the expectation that everything there must create happiness for you. You're gonna have to do that yourself.

If you're running away from something rather than running towards it, I hope you have good shoes because you're going to be running for a very, very long time.

Best of luck to you, future throwdown experts. I hope, if its right for you, that you knock down that fucking cubicle and never look back. Happy trails.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to post more than once a month. So there's that.