Back in May, I announced I was quitting my job, selling my stuff, and traveling the world. I’ve been back for 3 months now and I just spent this past Sunday uploading the thousands of pictures I took and reminiscing about the trip.
To recap, I flew in to Ecuador, visited Colombia, was deported from Argentina, went to Chile, made my way back to Argentina with a one-day visit to Uruguay, headed to Bolivia and finally Peru. The trip was undeniably life-changing. I embarked on the journey for 2 reasons – 1) I finally had the means to do it after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2012 and 2) I’ve worked since I was 9 years old and I was burned out.
I came back with fresh eyes and a new perspective on everything from my goals, surroundings, being, and the human race. Shortly after I finished Spanish school, I lost track of what day and time it was. I eventually got to a point where I stopped looking at guidebooks, I no longer made todo lists for myself, and I didn’t have a schedule. It was spectacular and I miss it immensely. Here’s a brief summary of the things I did and the places I went (or you can view it in pictures by visiting my Instagram feed):
There’s so much I want to share – from travel hacks I picked up, lessons learned, lost in translation moments, how I only spent $15k, and general observations – that I’ll save them in another post. For now, I’m happy I spent the weekend going through my pictures, finally uploading them, and reliving the experience again by writing this post.
Are you planning a trip to any of the countries mentioned above? I’d be happy to help by sharing more details about my experiences.
My inbox is inundated with requests to speak at local tech events, to help out, teach this, lead that, be part of X. Part of the reason for the volume coming through is because they want women represented. It’s great to see companies and conferences take an active role in ensuring diversity in their events. But because there aren’t many women in technology representatives, they keep approaching the same people. Let’s change that together.
When I decline an offer and I’m asked to refer other women to take my place, I think of the same women over and over like you most likely do. There just isn’t a big pool to draw from. Imagine the possibility of a vast network where there were too many options. You want more women in tech events? You want more women speakers in conferences? You want more VCs and angels to invest in women? It’s time for YOU to take a stand.
What does that mean? Stop talking about why there aren’t many women in technology and do something about it. The best way? Lead by example. One of the most effective ways to persuade people is to “show, not tell” as marketers and other businesspeople will tell you. I’m doing that with Girl Develop It Philly (GDI) and I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been. I see members come in not knowing a lick of code and hear back about how they just got a raise or completely switched careers. It’s my favorite part and I save every email I get thanking me for bringing GDI to Philly. Since we hit 2 years old in September, I’ve seen an influx of students that started with little to no coding experience becoming teaching assistants and one of them is now even leading classes (Go Sarah Johnson!)
I recently decided to take things a step further by asking members to speak at local events, help organize them, or take a more active leadership role in the community. I keep hearing the same hesitations so I’m including ideas on how to bridge the gap and get a move on.
Most of the women I talk to respond with this phrase when I approach them: “But I’m not comfortable public speaking.” I’ll let you on in a little secret. No one is. Ever. If they say they are, they’re lying. Think about the long-term effects of having this discomfort. How has it impacted you and others around you? Do you want to be one of the 54% that fear public speaking more than death that they actually gave it a name (Yep, it’s called Glossophobia). It’s difficult to believe you would rather end your life than speak in front of a group of people. Create a possibility of doing it and conquer it with the following:
From my own personal experience, you’ll find you forget about speaking in public when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about. If you have something in mind, get it out of the way and contact one now. In fact, let your family and friends know that public speaking is one of your goals this year. Go post about it on Twitter and Facebook. You’ll find sharing it holds you to be more accountable for it and propels you to act.
The other response I get is “But I don’t have the time for that right now.” My answer to this is always blunt and straight to the point – that is we make time for the things that are important to us. We are all strapped for time and a common pitfall I see with those that try to expand their schedule is to squeeze more things in the same period length. It’s actually a matter of deciding what matters more to you. I remember reading something that said to start by changing your language. Instead of saying “I don’t have time,” say “It’s not a priority” or “I don’t want to” and you’ll see how the impact of those words make you feel. It’s our choice of how we choose to spend our time. Take a step back and make sure you’re choosing it wisely.
My least favorite remark is “I don’t think I know enough.” Actually, you do and the best way to find out is by asking your friends, co-workers and network what they see you being an authority on. I bet you will find at least one topic. If not, that’s a talk in itself. I guarantee you’ll find something and if you don’t, reach out to me personally (yes, I’m inviting you to send me an email despite being overwhelmed with my inbox as it is because that’s how important this is) and I will find a way for you to start.
I recently met Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit at a local First Round Capital event. He talked about technology, startups, and his new book “Without Their Permission.” I haven’t finished it yet but I read something that resonated with me. It said something to the effect of “I guarantee that you’ll never succeed without trying. Just start – take the first step. You don’t need anyone’s permission.” Translated another way, JFDI.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about concrete steps you can take to be a leader in your community. I’ll use Philadelphia as an example since it’s where I’m located:
As a well-known advocate for women in technology, I’m taking a step back from directly organizing and speaking at local tech events. So ladies, bring it on. Go set the world on fire. Step it up and expand the network. Your community will thank you and you’ll thank yourself.
While I don’t buy into New Year resolutions, I do believe in constantly setting goals, recalibrating when necessary, and evaluating their progress. It has been exactly two months since I came back from my six-month trip to South America. I’ve been mulling over what to do next and I’ve come up with a plan which just happens to coincide with the beginning of another year. Here’s what’s new and what’s coming:
And for a brief look back at the top posts of 2013, I only updated my blog a measly seven times last year. But hey, what do you expect when I was gone for almost half of it? Instead of the usual top five roundup, the two most trafficked posts were Alternatives to Codecademy and F*&# the Status Quo. I’m Quitting My Job, Selling My Stuff, and Traveling the World.
I’m a halfway through my 500 words a day with this post. Off to remind myself why I set this goal in the first place…
Update 8/26/2013: I made it to Mendoza, Argentina by bus to make up for the loss I incurred during this ordeal with LAN Airlines. Not only did the bus company have a warning on their website when I purchased the ticket about the visa tax, but they also verified it during check-in and boarding. I was in contact with LAN and they did not make any attempts to help reconcile the matter. As the largest airline provider in South America, the customer service I received was sub-par and I warn others about using them in the future. Only they benefit from experiences like this as you`re required to pay for your return flight.
I´m writing this post partially to vent and partially to seek options on what I can do considering what happened yesterday.
In short, I flew into Buenos Aires, Argentina and was forced to leave the country for not paying their Visa tax beforehand. They would not let me use the phone or Internet, go to the US Embassy, or even grab something to eat.
Here`s the longer story.
I caught my flight from Medellin and flew into Ecuador for a hellish 10-hr layover. Because Quito is 1.5 hours from the airport, I stayed overnight and took my connecting flight at 6:55am. After another stop in Guayaquil, we set off for Buenos Aires at 8am and made it to the airport at 4pm (UTC time zone). At the customs window, I was asked if I had paid the Visa tax. I replied no, and inquired if I needed to pay her or go to another window. She said I should have paid it before arriving and left to get a supervisor. After a few minutes, she came back and motioned me to follow her into the Immigration office. I was put in a small, cold room and told to wait for someone to see me.
At this point, I´m tired but a little antsy. I had barely slept at the airport and was looking forward to checking into my hostel. I also had not eaten much besides the eggs they served during my flight and was overdue for lunch. I thought they would just have someone take my payment and I would be sent on my way.
I was dead wrong.
First, I´ve been learning Spanish but I am in no way fluent. I could hear them talking about me but I couldn´t understand their accent besides a few words here and there. About 20 minutes later, a woman from LAN (the airline I took) came down and explained that because I had not paid the Visa tax, I had to return to Ecuador.
¨Seriously? Why can´t I just pay it here?¨
“You can´t. Their policy is you must pay it before you enter the country. You must go back to Ecuador, pay it there, and come back.”
“You want me to fly another 8 hours and back, 16 in all, to make a payment? I don´t understand.”
This went on for a few more minutes. I asked if I can have a friend in Colombia or Ecuador pay the tax for me while I was there. No.
I asked if I can pay double there to stay. No.
I asked if any exceptions were made to that rule. No.
I asked if I can go to the US embassy. No.
I asked if I can make any phone calls. No.
When it finally sank in she was telling the truth, that a hidden camera crew wasn´t going to come out and say it was all a bad joke, I asked if I can go to another Country instead of enduring another long flight. She came back, presented me with options and I ultimately decided to head to Chile because it was closest and my next destination after Argentina. She found a flight that was leaving in 30 minutes and made arrangements to get me on it.
I don´t like to cry, ESPECIALLY in public and as much as I tried to resist I could feel tears well up in my eyes out of frustration. I inquired about the rule. My Lonely Planet guide said I could pay at the airport. When had the policy been altered and why had it changed? As upset as I was and as much as I wanted to be angry at the Argentinian officials, her answer made sense. It`s because the US government has the same regulations and forces Argentinians to go through it as well. When I asked how often this happens, how many times a day she has to send Americans away, she responded, “all day, at least a dozen times.” And that´s just one airline.
When we found out the flight was delayed for 20 minutes, I tried to get online to make hotel arrangements in Chile. At first, they would not let me. Finally, I appealed to their human nature, “What if your sister or daughter was alone in a foreign country, barely spoke the language, and had to go somewhere unprepared at the last minute? Would you send her off at night to find a place to stay?” We found a terminal that had free WIFI, and with a slow connection, I made a reservation and cancelled mine in Argentina.
I was chaperoned like a criminal, with the woman from LAN directing me on where I can go. Exhausted, spent, cold and hungry, I boarded my fourth flight in the last 24 hours to made it into Chile around 8pm. They require a Visa too but have a window at the airport where you can pay. They call it a reciprocity fee because the US government makes them pay the same amount to visit.
I looked into the regulations to try to make sense of them this morning. I had two options to pay for the tax: at the airport I was departing from or by credit card. The US government does have the same policy and Argentina recently changed theirs to match it. I don´t understand the benefit. Why make someone go back to where they were to pay the tax? Who benefits besides the airlines? I had spent almost $1,000 to fly from Colombia to Argentina. My flight to Chile wasn’t free either. I had to pay to leave.
What am I missing here? Did they have a right to deny me a phone call/visit to the US Embassy? Did I have other options I didn´t consider? A friend told me it was the airlines responsibility to make sure I had paid the tax before leaving. Is this true and what can I do about it? Will my travel insurance cover my expenses? Some of these answers I need to look into myself but I am still tired and don’t have the energy to fight anyone on the phone.
Lesson learned: Double check entry requirements before leaving the Country.
I became a US citizen last year and as happy as I am about it, I wish I would have been more patient and applied for dual citizenship so I can use another passport for countries with visa requirements. Because we make it so hard for foreigners from some countries to enter, they´re fighting back by implementing similar regulations. I can´t blame them for that.
For now, I´m going to figure out what to do in Chile. Maybe, just maybe, I´ll try Argentina again. I snapped the pictures below from the airplane. It looks too beautiful to miss despite all the trouble.
Balance. Every time I think of the word, a picture of a judgment scale comes to mind.
Like many people, I like it in almost every regard and most especially when it comes to reciprocity. I grew up learning to mutually give in return and that notion stayed with me in adulthood. In lieu of feeling entitled to others, I prefer doing things myself.
Which is why the story of my first day traveling solo was so eventful.
Take 1: Finding Oscar in the Lost and Found
I had a long 6-hour layover in Miami before I was due in Ecuador. My backpack was digging into my back so I spent the first half hour reorganizing the contents. I pulled out my Nexus to get online when I noticed the battery was almost dead which when I discovered I had forgotten to pack my charger. There are two electronic stores in the Miami airport and both stores didn’t have the one I needed in stock. I was contemplating getting a taxi to venture outside the airport when I had the brilliant idea to go to the lost and found section to see if I can get one there.
When I finally found it, I played it off like I had just lost mine. The man behind the counter took out a catalogued binder, leafed through it to the current date and told me one had not been turned in yet that day. I asked if he had any that had not been claimed that he can give to me anyway. He stated that each item is itemized and sold to Goodwill after 30 days.
“Well then, can I buy one from you?”
“Sorry, ma’am. Protocol prohibits me from doing so. But I can help you find the nearest store.”
He started a Google search when I heard a voice behind me exclaim, “Your best bet is the Best Buy. It is about 15 mins away by taxi.” I turned around to find an attractive, 30ish, well-build, groomed man with a suitcase. After I thanked both of them for their help, I went downstairs only to discover I had gone to the wrong floor. I turned around when I ran into the same man who had just suggested Best Buy.
“You’re lost, aren’t you? I know this is going to sound strange but I can give you a ride and back. I have some time to kill.”
Um, yeah. Time to kill ME I thought. I don’t want to die before I step onto my first destination. I hesitated for a minute while I gave him the once-over.
He introduced himself as Oscar and told me he was in town from Boston to take care of his mother who was ill. ”Are you sure you don’t mind? Okay, let’s do it.”
During the car ride, we hit it off right away. He shared stories about his gay partner, his disapproving father, and his adopted African-American son and I told him about my trip and why I was going. We had a lot in common and he ended up inviting me to have lunch with his Mother after I picked up my charger. It was a fun excursion and he drove me back with plenty of time to catch my flight.
Take 2: Rescued by Juan & Maria
I request an exit row when I learn the middle seat is empty so I can stretch out during my 3-hour ride to Ecuador. A short, stocky and what I assume Ecuadorian man sits by the window and I take the aisle seat.
When the pilot announces we’re 20 minutes away, I pull out the printed directions I received from the Program Director at the Spanish Immersion School I enrolled in. I chose to participate in a home stay which means I’ll be staying with a local family while I study. One of the sheets has a list of the families and their addresses. I look for mine and notice it is not on the list.
I go back to the email that had the attachment and ensure I have the correct name.
Yep. No “Familia Ponce” on the list.
There’s a link to a map in the email and I ask the flight attendant if WIFI is available on the plane or the airport so I can grab the address.
I look over to man sitting to my right and strike up a conversation. His name is Juan and although his English is not very good but I’m able to learn he is in fact from Ecuador and he’s returning from a business trip in Miami. He had missed his flight the previous day and his wife will be picking him up from the airport. I explain my predicament and ask if there’s a nearby Internet cafe where I can figure out the address. He says he’ll ask around when we land.
I gather my hiking backpack from baggage claim and walk out to the lobby, thinking that he may have left during the 30-minutes it took for me to finally get bag. I see someone waving to me in the corner of my eye and discover him standing there with his beautiful wife. He asks for the URL in my email and types it in his wife’s phone. It’s a slow connection but we finally find it. I breathe a sigh of relief and thank them for their help. By this time, at least 45 minutes have passed and I can’t stop expressing my gratitude. They tell me to barter with the taxi before getting into the car as they usually double the fare for tourists. I assure them I will and turn around to head to the exit when Juan stops me.
“Actually, it late. We give you ride.”
“No, no, you’ve done enough. Thank you for the offer but I will be fine. Don’t let me take up anymore of your time.”
“We go that way too. It no problem.”
I nod and follow them as tears well up in my eyes. This couple had no idea who I was an hour ago, they took time out of their night to help me despite our language barrier, and on top of that they were going the extra mile to ensure I got to my destination safe and sound.
As we drive to Quito, Juan and his wife, Maria, point out attractions and make suggestions on where I should go along the way. We end up getting lost and having to ask for directions multiple times. When we finally get there, it’s 9:30pm, two hours later than when I was due. I take money out of my waist belt and go to thank Juan yet again as Maria talks to my house Mother. He shakes his head feverishly and puts out his hand, refusing to accept it. “When I was stuck in Miami yesterday, a stranger help me. I pay it back. Please, no. Just be safe.” He asks for my phone and inputs his number and his wife’s number, telling me to call if I need anything. I ask him to include his address so I can send him a postcard. He obliges, we all hug, and they get back into their car for what I learn will be another 40-minute drive until they get home.
I don’t know what would have happened without these two random acts of kindness. I could have gone without a charger or taken a taxi to get one. I would have probably found another way to get to my destination but I can’t say either would have been as pleasant.
I learned an important lesson the first day. Sometimes the balance scale doesn’t perfectly align and it’s okay. Sometimes, you have to place faith in others and allow them to help you. And sometimes, all you can do in return is continue the cycle and pay it forward in the future.
Thank you Oscar, Juan, and Maria for that message and for making my first day one to remember. <3
My life hasn’t been “normal” by any means.
I didn’t have a childhood – had to grow up fast.
My family were refugees of the Persian Gulf War.
I started working at a young age of nine, helping my family run a 24-hour convenience store.
I didn’t have the typical college experience – I worked two jobs to put myself through school.
I started a company a couple of years later that was later acquired in 2011.
All while I had limited opportunities as it took me 22 years of living in the U.S. to become a citizen.
Comparing my path against my friends since the sale has been the most ordinary my life has been. I have a 9 to 5 job with health insurance, a stable paycheck, and co-workers who have become like a second family. Despite running Girl Develop It Philly and everything else I’m involved in, I have more free time than ever – something that had been unattainable to me for decades. I’ve had time to think about going the predictable route – settling down, getting married, having kids, etc. and it’s something I’ve come to think is a possibility. At 31-years-old, things generally seem good.
However, I haven’t been able to become accustomed to the rut I fell into. I go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to sleep, get up and do it all over again. I’ve had this persistant gnawing feeling at the back of my mind that something wasn’t right but I was unable figure it out. A recent vacation to Costa Rica brought it to the forefront.
All I’ve known my whole life is hard work. I’ve struggled to attain everything I’ve achieved. And you know what? I’m damn tired. Burned out. Exhausted.
I used to quote the mantra “work hard now, play hard later” to justify my work ethic in college, at the first consulting company I was involved in, and later at 123LinkIt. My family and friends were in a constant battle for my attention and that chant would pull me through tough times. My perception of it now? Fuck that motto right in la culata. I want to go back in time and slap myself silly every time I contemplated that sentence. While I was away, I was mesmerized by the climate, mountains, jungles, animals and most of all, the people in Costa Rica. They work to live, coveting relationships with loved ones over the daily grind. I realized that wanderlust and more meaningful relationships are what I want during this stage of my life. To put my career on the back burner for a change and discover who I am without my laptop.
It leads to the reason I’m traveling. I don’t do anything half-way, which is why it’s for a prolonged duration. I will be flying into Quito, Ecuador on May 30th where I’ll stay with a host family while immersing myself in the Spanish language and culture for the first 6 weeks. I move on to Colombia, maybe Venezuela, head down to Brazil, then Argentina and loop back around to Chile and Peru, where I’ll return right before Thanksgiving. I have an idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, but I haven’t made specific plans besides booking a trek on the Inca trail. It’s a solo trip, I don’t know a single person, and I’m hoping family and friends will visit along the way.
My life’s path has been restrictive due to circumstances beyond my control and for the first time in my life, I have the freedom to steer away and do what I CHOOSE rather than the limited scope I have been given. I’m looking forward to traveling towards undefined destinations and letting things happen as they may.
When I come back, I plan to tackle the Middle East and then who knows what else. All I do know is that it won’t be following the status quo.
P.S. Recommended reading: “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” – A nurse outlines profound, common themes she witnesses among her ailing patients. The first two ring truest for me.
Many companies offer tuition reimbursement but employees rarely take advantage of it, either because they don’t know it’s available or they’re not sure of how to approach it. Becoming a valuable asset by strengthening or building new skills is a win-win for employees and employers alike. In this post, I’ll share tips and strategies to start the conversation and close the deal.
I approached my boss about taking a design class at University of the Arts during our site redesign last year. I made it clear aesthetics wasn’t my strong suit and it would help me do a better job with the project and others coming up. Coupled with the steps I outline below, my request was granted and I was able to take the $545 eight-week class for free.
I’ve brought up the concept to a few Girl Develop It members. Our classes are $10 to $14 an hour and it should be an easy win to ask for compensation. So far, every member that has tried has been successful. For those that are a little apprehensive, the process is similar to a negotiation. It requires pre-planning to prepare and negate any issues that may appear.
It doesn’t have to be a long or nerve-wracking conversation. Bring it up during a status meeting or when the right moment presents itself. The more you focus on the benefits and advantages it’ll provide to your employer, the more successful you’ll likely be. What do you really have to lose?
For the last two years, I’ve been following Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review outline to reflect on the past year. I make a list of what went well and what could have been better, then I compare it with my notes from the previous year. Without hesitation, 2012 has been the absolute best year of my life. I’ve grown tremendously, achieved consequential milestones, and accomplished some really neat things if I do say so myself. I didn’t realize just how much until I wrote it all down. When I’m an old, wrinkly grandma, I imagine it’ll fun to reminisce and tell my grandkids about what a geek I used to be. Hopefully they’ll think I’m the cooler than I really am. While I’ll keep the full review to myself, I’ll share some of the fabulous things that made this year so exceptional:
I can’t wait to have enough of a collection of these reviews that I’ll be able to look back and reminisce about how far I’ve come. Five years ago, I had outrageous dreams about hitting it big while working at my first partnership where I was earning just under $20,000 a year. Ten years prior, I was slaving away at two under-the-table jobs to put myself through school. It’s humbling to reflect at how things have progressed. I can’t wait to move forward even more this year.
Before I end this post, I have to take a moment and say thank you to all the wonderful people who have had an impact on my life – I extend my gracious gratitude and wish you all a happy 2013!
I started this blog in April of 2011 and made it a point to post regularly, no matter how busy I got. Somehow that changed last year. Publishing new posts became sporadic and I only updated my blog for 5 months of the year. This is something I’ll be refocusing in the new year. Even with the low volume, a couple of posts really took off on Hacker News and BlogHer, with the first three receiving the bulk of the traffic. The top five blog posts of 2012 are:
I enjoy reading blogs much more than writing them and you can view which ones I follow on the sidebar to the right. Enjoy browsing!
P.S. You can take a look at last year’s list here.