Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick hits on gap year prep

So it's been a while since I've last written and we find ourselves with 7 days left. Crazy. I've been rather busy preparing so I thought I'd let you all in on what I've been up to.
  • Shopping trips with my Mom to REI and Adventure 16 to prepare for the harsh Russian winter
    • Highlights include a North Face jacket that can be packed into one of its own pockets to conserve space and a Swiss Card (credit card-sized and shaped Swiss Army gadget)
  • Purchased an International Student Identification Card (or ISIC for short) from STA Travel for $20ish. Good for discounts around the world, and valid for one year.
  • Purchased an International Driver's License from AAA for ~$30. Valid also for one year, and it allows me to drive in every country I'll be going to besides China. Jaime and I have talked about driving a little while we travel through Australia and New Zealand after the new year.
  • Registered to get an absentee ballot in Russia through the Federal Voting Assistance Program
    • For this one I had to download and complete a form and fax it back. I selected e-mail as my preference to get the ballot, so we'll see how it comes.
    • It'll be pretty neat and strange to cast my first ballot in Russia. And I'm not sure how Jaime's voting, but I hope to help seal the all-important Russian vote for Obama.
  • Participated in an hour and a half pre-departure CCS conference call last week
    • We went over little details about the flight and the airport, and spent a lot more time talking about the program and volunteer placements once we get there
    • Two other volunteers were on the call with me in addition to the New York-based Russia program manager. One a recent college graduate from Kentucky, and the other, a British woman of indeterminate age who spoke very softly and was dropped from the call 25 minutes in. Jaime was busy working at his uncle's bank in San Francisco so I took notes for him.
  • Went back to my doctor to get the second and final dose of chicken pox immunization
    • I looked up the recommended shots and vaccinations to get on the Center for Disease Control's website. The chicken pox shots were my idea though because I have never been infected and I knew I'd be working with kids
  • Received a camera that my sisters had bought me for my birthday
    • Strange coincidence, Jaime has the same one!
  • Took my typhoid immunization pills
    • These had to be picked up from the pharmacy in a refrigerated container and kept refrigerated until I swallowed them. The 4 pills had to be swallowed with a cold glass of water one hour before a meal every other day. I definitely had trouble remembering that, but I got them all down eventually.
  • Got a place to stay in Cape Town courtesy of Mrs. Ozen, my friend Daniel's mom
    • We needed a place for the first week we were going to be there originally. Then the flights changed, and now we're going to have a two day layover in NY instead of a couple hours. Jaime and I will stay at my sister Michelle's place, try to go see her school and also try to hang out with some Columbia and NYU kids.
  • Purchased a mini 9 inch screen, 2.2 pound laptop aka netbook
    • Easier to travel with, and only will be using it for internet and word processor
  • Got a year's supply of contacts from my aunt the optometrist
  • Sent in my resume/CV and writing samples to Projects-Abroad so they can find me a journalism internship in Shanghai
  • Went to lunch with Andrew Schein (HW Class of 07) to rack his brain for gap year tips
    • Andrew spent his year in Spain and London
  • E-mailed Projects-Abroad's Visa team and established that I'll get my Chinese visa while back in LA. (They had originally suggested New Zealand b/c it would be closer to my date of arrival in China).
I was also pretty busy with (and stressed about) the organic farms in Australia and New Zealand. Probably around a month ago Jaime and I sent e-mails to 3 Kiwi farms and 2 Aussie ones, after creating a schedule for the 10 weeks we'll be there and fitting them in.

Within a day we got two no replies, due to both farms already having WWOOFers staying with them during the time we requested. One of the nos was the Italian cooking school/farm we were looking forward to working. The other was a cattle ranch which I was especially intrigued by. Later a third no crushed one of Jaime's dreams, the chance to work on an alpaca farm.

We regrouped, sent out more e-mails..... and got no replies. So I contacted the support organizations in each country and had them contact the farms for us, because for some reason when I tried calling, it never went through. The WWOOF support teams replied promptly and helped to get us in contact with the farms, and I figured out eventually why my calls weren't going through. (You have to leave out the 0 between the country and area codes that was for some reason always in the listing. In my defense at least, my first 2 or 3 Google searches didn't inform me of this).

Finally, I was able to talk to the owners of the 4 farms we picked by phone. The first was a library/ Thai gardens/ meditation center outside of Sydney. The woman refused to confirm WWOOFers so early in advance, which is understandable because she didn't want to risk us not coming and lose out on other WWOOFers in the meantime. This stance also put us in quite the bind as one can see, because on the one hand we were being informed that places were already booked, and on the other being told that we were calling too early. The owner agreed to pencil us in. Not exactly what we were looking for, but she did however give us the clever suggestion of checking out the WWOOF e-mail bulletin board, where hosts post notices of their need for volunteers. She also told me to call when we got to Australia.

Call #2 went a lot better. This farm is a "lost island" off of Melbourne with a ridiculously large koala population. With no trouble at all, the nice owner confirmed us for Feb 2nd- Feb 6th. This farm can host up to 10 volunteers so Jaime and I may have company there. Should be interesting to hang out with koalas!

Next, on to New Zealand. I called up the owner of a vineyard that has a 9 hole frisbee golf course and claims to make the best pizza in the world. It was a good thing I called the owner's cell and not his home number because he and his family were in Chicago at the time. He also started to tell me it was too early to commit, but I think someone in the background his wife maybe convinced him otherwise. And he told me to shoot an e-mail to confirm. Still no response on that yet either. Fortunately though this looks like it will work out, which will make it the only one out of our original five picks. We plan on staying there from Feb. 22nd to March 7th.

The fourth call was another farm in Auckland. This one is a remote pub/restaurant on an island. The receptionist who picked up told me it was too early to tell and apologized for not responding to my e-mail. She said she had e-mailed back the WWOOF Support team when they contacted her and thought she e-mailed me as well. Also, fascinatingly she told me she herself was a WWOOFer 4 years ago when she came to the farm and ended up staying on and working there.

So now what's left on the to-do list?
  • Finish War and Peace (Only 380 pages to go! Lord help me)
  • Buy a better memory card for my new camera, and a mouse for the mini laptop
  • Medical insurance while in S. Africa without CCS, and in Australia
  • Buy an unlocked phone and get an international SIM card
    • My Dad and I have spent many hours over the last two days searching for the best deal. The ISIC card comes with an offer for an int'l SIM card, but my Dad and I have both found better offers.
  • Pack!
And that's about it! I'm also just getting ready mentally for a trip I've been waiting for and planning for the last 8 or 9 months.

7 days. 7 days. 7 days.....


Vanessa said...

thats unreal i'm so excited for you! it gave me butterflies just reading that you're going to have an amazing year...i can't believe its actually happening!


Marco said...

good luck man i wish you the best

like i told jaime, ill tell you.
It is extremely admirable that you are taking this chance to experience everything/ anything else the world has to offer. you are a brave and mature guy and i wish you the best in your endeavors
Good luck man, and I hope you find everything that you are looking for both on this trip and in your life