Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Korean Christmas, Round Two

It’s the Sunday afternoon before Christmas.

In my head, I’m curled up in a blanket by the fire, sipping hot chocolate while I watch a marathon of Christmas movies with my family. It’s gently snowing outside, and the Christmas tree lights are sparkling, dancing across my living room.

In reality, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, sipping on a beautifully-designed latte, while Avril Lavigne plays in the background. There are so many people out and about today that it’s obvious Christmas is just around the corner. It’s December 21st. There are decorated Christmas trees in every coffee shop and in many of the stores that line the busy streets. English Christmas music blasts from those same stores, Mariah Carey declaring to the world that all she wants for Christmas is YOU!!

This is hands-down one of my favourite Christmas songs ever. When it comes on the radio when I’m driving home from an afternoon of Christmas shopping back in Canada, I can’t help but screech out with excitement and start singing and dancing just like Mariah Carey herself. Sometimes, I get so into it that I almost forget that I am, in fact, not Mariah Carey. When the song ends, and I’m forced to come back to reality, this fact dawns on me. My moment of glory is always short-lived, but no less enjoyable.

Today, though, hearing it is only another reminder that I’m not home. I’m here, in Korea, thousands of miles from home. Across the world, in fact. It would be hard to get much further away at this point.

This is one of the things I dislike most about living abroad. Outside of Canada, I’ve only ever lived for an extended period of time in Korea, but this will be the second Christmas season I’ve spent away from home. I have a feeling that it probably wouldn’t really matter where I was, though, because wherever it was, it just wouldn’t be home.

This sounds silly in many ways. I actually feel guilty saying it out loud sometimes. Maybe that’s why I’m sitting here writing it instead. It’s hard to have this conversation with people who don’t feel the same way about this holiday. Those kind of conversations tend to go something like this:

Me: “I really miss my family. I wish I was going home for Christmas.” Waaaaaaaaaaa.

Them: “Meh. Christmas is just a day anyway. It’s overrated.”

Or sometimes, like this:

Them: “Sorry………..” (with looks of sympathy).

Or, better yet:

Me: “I’m so sad I’ll be missing Christmas this year. I really wish I could be home to see everyone.”

Them: “Are you serious? You get to travel! You’re so lucky! What are you whining about!?”

I have to admit that these people have a good point. I agree that I am extremely lucky to be able to live abroad, to travel, and to gain new experiences. I know how fortunate I am to be here. There’s no question about whether or not I’m grateful for this opportunity.

In my experience, however, knowing this doesn’t seem to make the holidays away from home any easier. Having lived away from home for two years now, I’ve realized two things about myself; that I’m very much a family-oriented person, and that Christmas is an important time of year for me. I can tell myself a hundred times (and have!) to make the best of it, but it never seems to be that easy.

Of course, Christmas, and all the hype that goes along with it, isn’t for everyone. For some, Christmas means little more than a day off work. (Great! Finally a day to relax!) For me though, it means so much more.

I can listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas CD on repeat (and if I’m being honest, I probably will!) but it won’t change the fact that the most important part of Christmas, for me, is still missing.

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The Plunge

I’m now only about a month and a half into my 25th year of life on this incredible planet, but already, a lot has happened in that time.

Even before my birthday, in the months leading up to this milestone in my life, some important events were taking place. I should note, though, that most of these “important events” happened in my apartment in Korea, with myself as the only guest. Seems far from Earth-shattering, doesn’t it? However, this series of little steps really did shatter my understanding of the world at that time.

So, what exactly did I do, you ask?

First, I read some books that literally changed my life and helped me climb out of the unhappy hole I’d been stuck in for the last several months (more to come on this in another post).

After I’d cleared my head of most of the junk swimming around up there, I found I had freed up a lot more time that I could use to focus on myself. I thought more seriously about what I might actually want to do with my life. The two things I came up with (besides sleeping way too much, of course!) were travel and writing. Deep down, I knew both of these passions had already existed in me for quite some time – I just hadn’t really believed I could do something with them.

I began reading blogs and articles I found online about these two passions, and the more I read, the more interested I became in actually doing something about them. That’s when I first discovered Jeff Goins‘ blog, and my mind seemed to switch gears; from then on it was full speed ahead!

I started thinking about my own blog again – that poor, lonely one I had abandoned over a year ago and had never touched since I’d been back in Korea. Maybe it was time to give it a go again! I also joined social media networks that I had been avoiding for as long as possible, thinking (more like pretending) they weren’t really all that important anyway. A writer just writes, right?

WRONG!

Each time I visited the page of an online travel magazine where freelancers can submit their work, I was faced with the glaringly empty boxes of all the social media networks I was not part of. The list went on and on: Instagram, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn… And worst of all, these boxes were mandatory! I had my work cut out for me. Joining and figuring out how to work all these new platforms was going to take some time.

The next thing I did was probably the biggest step yet, and that was joining the My 500 Words writing challenge. Now one week into this challenge, I can already see how it’s beginning to transform my views on being a writer. I still have three weeks to go, and I’m excited to see what I’ll be able to accomplish by the time I reach the finish line.

It’s amazing what happens when you start your year off right – taking the plunge into quarter-century life surrounded by family, in your cozy little Korean apartment, with a can of Cass beer in hand!

Cheers!

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Sleep vs. Adventure

Day five of my writing adventure has begun. Still not as early in the day as I would have liked, but I’ll continue to work on that. Getting up early has always been a struggle for me. I’m one of those people who likes sleeping a little too much – definitely way more than is normal, and probably more than is even healthy! Most people who know me well know that if given the chance, I could easily and happily sleep most of the day away, every single day (especially during the winter!) Sometimes, I like to joke that I’m a professional sleeper. That’s how bad it really is!

However, this passion for sleep that I’ve been blessed (cursed?) with tends to interfere with my other interests at times, particularly those of travel and writing. I’m sure you can see how my wanderlust might bump heads with my lust to hibernate from time to time!

As much as I enjoy sleep, I can usually be coaxed out from beneath my warm, cozy blankets by the promise of an adventure (or coffee, of course). The promise of my computer screen waiting for me to finish writing my 500 words for the day has not yet become quite as enticing – but here’s to hoping it will by the end of this challenge!

My first four days of this commitment have already been eye-opening for me. Each day, I’ve produced something that I’m happy with; maybe even proud of! Each day, I sat down, I started writing, and I didn’t get up until I had written at least 500 words on the screen in front of me.

Some days, I sat down with an idea or topic in mind. Other days, I just started writing, and amazingly, a topic seemed to come to me as the words started to fill up the page. Sometimes, 300 words in, I discovered I actually did have something in mind to write about that day, I just wasn’t aware of it at the time I began typing!

I’m realizing more and more that it doesn’t matter so much what I write about, as long as I write. It’s amazing how easy it is to develop a new habit. All you really have to do is decide to do it. Make a commitment, and then stick to it, no matter what. I’m only five days into this month-long commitment, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll have no trouble completing it successfully because of one simple reason; I finally made the decision to start.

During the last few years, I’ve spent too much time putting writing off for another day, thinking it was too hard or that I had nothing worthwhile to write about. I kept telling myself that I’d start tomorrow, and then when tomorrow rolled around, I’d put it off yet again. At the same time, I was telling myself that I should really try to develop a daily writing habit if I ever wanted to be serious about writing. I would often read articles about how easy writing becomes when you make the commitment to do it every day and think “How nice! Maybe that will happen to me someday.”

In reality, all I really needed to do was start.

Now that I’ve tackled that monster, I want to work towards creating another habit: getting up early!

For a professional sleeper, I think this habit will prove to be a little more difficult to develop. Any ideas?

Categories: My 500 Words, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Views from Above

I’ve now called Busan home for almost two years.

During that time, there have, of course, been many ups and downs. But this is old news. When someone moves to a foreign country to begin a new adventure, they’d best not be expecting the sun to shine every day. (That’s a recipe for a nasty case of disappointment I’m afraid!)

Some things, though, will always catch you off guard. You can never prepare for them, no matter how hard you may have tried to imagine them before leaving home. And you can never control your reaction to them in the moment.

For me, one of these things is the mountains.

As someone who comes from a place with absolutely no mountains in sight until you’ve driven across at least three other provinces, this isn’t surprising to me. I’ve grown to love many things about my temporary home, but the abundance of mountains and the fact that they are so easily accessible is pretty high up on my list. Did I mention that there’s a mountain with a pretty great network of trails directly behind my apartment?

First, let’s get something straight, because at this point, you may be picturing me as the avid-hiker type, up at the crack of dawn to tackle the trails (unless you know me well, of course!). Unfortunately, this is not so, though sometimes I wish it were. In all honesty, you will probably never find me decked out in the full Korean hiking gear from head to toe, complete with poles and a visor. Oh, and don’t forget the kimbap and possibly/probably soju to share with your friends!

I’m certainly not serious enough about it to join the ranks of the Korean masses ready to take on anything that stands before them, but I do enjoy hiking from time to time. I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble upon some pretty amazing sights on my hikes in this beautiful corner of Korea.

I discovered one of those sights a couple of weekends ago.

A friend and I set out to do a little hike up the mountain behind my apartment, mostly to get some exercise and to check out some of the different trails. (Being the non-avid hiker that I am, I had barely set foot on my backyard mountain before this!) We started up the winding road, enjoying the unbelievably warm weather for mid-November. It was a gorgeous day, the sun beating down on us as we made our way higher and higher.

Then we came across a little park off to the side of the road. From what we could see, this “park” consisted of a couple of obscure statues and some rocks. Far from enticing, but we decided to check it out anyway.

And that’s when the best discovery of all was made!

Looking up over the tiny park, we noticed a big wooden patio with some tables and chairs lined up. Assuming it must be a shop or restaurant of some sort, we explored. What we saw next made me wish I had found this place nine months ago, when I first moved to the neighbourhood.

Standing on the patio, we looked out at the blend of light blue sky, baby blue water, deep green mountains, and the tall white buildings scattered everywhere in between them. A few fluffy clouds were drifting slowly overhead. I now knew why that tiny park had called to me. In that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Everything about this scene was enchanting.

That stunned feeling I get when I stumble across views like this never ceases to amaze me. I never know when or where it will happen, but it’s always a possibility. That’s one of my favourite things about Busan, and it’s one of the things I know I’ll miss the most!

A panorama of the view

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Goals? What are those?

Here we go – day two of my writing challenge! So what’s today going to be about?

Goals.

Everyone talks about the importance of setting goals. Lots of people read books about goal-setting, some write lists, and others even make detailed plans about how to achieve their goals. If you’re really into it, there are even workshops and classes you can attend about this very topic.

It’s clear that there are many resources available to those interested in setting (and hopefully achieving) some goals. So why do so many people still struggle with this? (Or is it just me!?)

When I returned to South Korea in March to try my hand at another year of teaching English, I’ll admit that I secretly had some other motives as well. Yes, I wanted to save money. Yes, I wanted to travel. Yes, I wanted to experience another culture. I also wanted to try new foods, meet new people, and perhaps even attempt to learn a new language. (That last one hasn’t worked out as well as I’d originally envisioned). I guess these motives are really not-so-secret after all. I would imagine that many people in my position had similar ideas in mind when they decided to embark on an adventure to The Land of the Morning Calm.

There is one thing, though, that I didn’t tell many people about before I left. Something I promised myself I would do during my second year abroad – something that, unfortunately, I have not honoured.

That thing is writing.

I had so many writing “goals” for this year, almost none of which I’ve actually met.

I remember sitting in my living room at home in Canada a few weeks before flying back to Korea. I thought about all the things I wanted to do this year, and made mental lists of my writing goals. There were many. Some were personal; keep a daily journal, blog at least twice a month, communicate better with friends and family, send frequent updates by email.

Others were more professional. I wanted to explore the idea of a future career in writing and try out options like travel writing. Specifically, I wanted to write and pitch an article to a travel magazine at least once a month. It didn’t matter so much whether they got published or not, or how many I got published. It was more about getting some practice and experience to see whether I enjoyed this type of writing or not.

As I said earlier, most of these things didn’t quite pan out. For one reason or another (none of which are very good ones, of course), I put off writing in favour of doing something else. Probably something that required less time and effort.

What I’ve discovered this year is that the word “goal” doesn’t mean much, unless you plan to actually do something about it.

That’s where this writing challenge comes in. By accepting this challenge, I have officially set a new goal for myself: to develop a daily writing habit.

And this time, I’m going to achieve it!

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The challenge begins!

So, here I am on the first day of this new adventure. For the next 31 days straight, I’ll be writing at least 500 words every single day. About what, you ask? Who knows! It’ll be a surprise for you and me!

I didn’t get up early this morning like I had planned – but, I got up. Here I am, typing away behind my computer screen. That’s the most important part. That’s what counts.

I’ve already accomplished the hardest part of this challenge – actually starting.

So now that I’ve done that, what will I write about?

Well, I want to begin by talking about the hardest part – the part where you actually start writing something. It seems silly when you think about it. How can simply writing be the hardest part of a writing challenge? It doesn’t make much sense.

But, it really is true. This is something I’ve struggled with for months. Maybe even for the last few years. Believe me – if I had an answer for you, I’d tell you. There’s something about writing, especially for the web, that’s intimidating. For a writer, it can be hard to share your writing with others. What you write can be very personal at times, and you’re afraid that if you put your thoughts, ideas, or feelings out there for the world to read, somebody might take it as an opportunity to pounce on you. Somebody might disagree with you. Someone might tell you you’re wrong. Someone else may hate what you write.

These are all major concerns for someone who cares a lot about what other people think of them. In fact, it’s a recipe for an ego-squashing disaster.

You want to post an emotional story about that amazing thing that happened today, but in the few moments that your mouse hovers above the “Publish” button, an anxious string of thoughts arises. What will people think if I post this? Will they think I’m lame? Will they think it’s stupid? Will they even read it? What if NO ONE reads it!? Then I will look even more lame!!

If I’m being honest with myself, these kinds of thoughts are probably the worst enemy I’ve met along my writing journey so far, not the angry mobs who hate my writing that I imagined in my head.

For many people who want to be writers (myself included at times), the fear of how others will perceive them is what holds them back the most.

This is something I’ve been working on. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. It takes courage to share a big part of yourself with someone else, let alone offering it up to the world! But, that’s what writers do. They write – and regardless of whether they write fiction, fantasy, or an autobiography – those words come from their minds. They reveal a big part of who they are.

It’s time for me to fully embrace what it means to be a writer, and to give myself the opportunity to find my voice. It’s time to stop worrying about what other people will think, and just let myself be free to write, whatever and whenever I want.

I’m finally ready to make a change.

That’s why I signed up for this challenge. How can I call myself a writer if I don’t write?

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Are you ready to make the leap, too? Join Jeff Goins‘ 31-day writing challenge, my 500 words!

Categories: My 500 Words, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

My 500 Words

The other day, I came across an article that made something in my brain “click.”

Jeff Goins, a writer and writing coach, has an excellent blog geared towards people who want to be writers. I’ve checked out his blog many times and always enjoy reading his writing advice. I usually find his writing to be very helpful, and often motivational.

In his article, The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit, he writes that most people fail at becoming writers simply because they don’t actually write. “They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write,” he says.

This really hit home for me. It struck me how often I do all of these things, except for the actual writing part! All of a sudden, I realized how ridiculous this really was. Luckily, there was something I could do about it.

In this article, he encourages writers to try a 31-day challenge called “My 500 Words.” Every day for 31 days straight, you must write at least 500 words, regardless of whether you publish them or not. Every single day, you have to get up, put your fingers on the keys, and write something. It doesn’t matter what you write about, or even what you write. You just have to write.

When I had finished reading this article, I knew something was different. Rather than just reading the words on my screen and trying to log away snippets of his advice for future use, this time, I felt compelled to act. This idea was the motivation I needed. I knew I was ready to accept this challenge!

After all, what do writers do? They write.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be tackling this challenge one day at a time.

I have no idea what the next 31 days of writing will bring, but I’m looking forward to finding out!

Categories: My 500 Words, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

YCI Celebrates International Volunteer Day!

Dec. 5th is International Volunteer Day!

To celebrate, YCI invited their volunteers to respond to the question: What inspires you to volunteer?

I did my best to keep my answer short, but it was difficult to sum up such an amazing opportunity in just a few sentences. Scroll down and you’ll find my picture and blurb!

My experience volunteering in Guyana in 2012 is something I’ll never forget. It opened many doors for me, and unlocked in me a passion for travel and learning about the world. I came to see how possible it is to make real connections with people who seemed, at first, to be completely different from me. The people I met and friendships I made while living in my village were one of the best parts of my volunteer experience. This adventure is where I first got “itchy feet,” and I’m so thankful I did!

If you’re thinking about volunteering somewhere, whether it be locally or abroad, GO FOR IT!!! I’m fairly certain that a unique experience like this will never end up on your list of regrets. (Hopefully you don’t have one of those, anyway!)

Happy Volunteer Day!

Youth Challenge International

Today is International Volunteer Day! This is a chance to recognize and celebrate volunteerism, honoring those who give their time to make a difference.

In celebration of International Volunteer Day, YCI wants to honour our amazing volunteers! Read on to learn what inspires them to volunteer abroad.

Aleatha Bedard-Poole Ghana 2014 “I volunteer to invest in others and empower individuals to do the same!”Aleatha Bedard-Poole Ghana 2014
“I volunteer to invest in others and empower individuals to do the same!”

Ali-Chuma Tabaro Koforidua Ghana, 2011 “What inspired me to volunteer beyond my desire to make a difference for others less fortunate is the opportunity to do so with the guidance and support I receive volunteering with YCI.”Ali-Chuma Tabaro Koforidua Ghana, 2011
“What inspired me to volunteer beyond my desire to make a difference for others less fortunate is the opportunity to do so with the guidance and support I receive volunteering with YCI.”

 Allison Burney Guyana, 2012 “I see volunteering as an opportunity to learn about the world by experiencing aspects of another country, including the culture, food, language, and lifestyle. I want to meet the people there, exchange ideas, and learn from each other.”Allison Burney Guyana, 2012
“I see volunteering as an opportunity to learn about the world by experiencing aspects of another country, including the culture, food, language, and lifestyle. I want to meet the people there, exchange ideas, and learn from each other.”

Stephen Cornish, Executive Director, Doctors without Borders Canada CRIV and CRV 1993/94 “Volunteering allowed me to gain experience, grow as a person and to begin what has become a life-long vocation in overseas assistance. I continue to serve as a board member for YCI thus giving back in a very small way; for what I received as a young YCI group leader many years ago.”Stephen Cornish, Executive Director, Doctors without Borders…

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Travel Map

I’ve got a start, but there’s still so much more of the world to see!!!

 

                       ALLISON’S TRAVEL MAP

 

Allison has been to: Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, Guyana, Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, South Korea, Thailand, United States

I made this map using Matador Network‘s #Travelstoke World Map template. It’s a super easy and fun way to keep track of your travels.

If you’d like to make your own map, click here and you’ll be map-building in no time!

Happy travels!

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Allison Burney

"To live will be an awfully big adventure." - Peter Pan

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